Alexander Burmistrov (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)
A hot-shot youngster who never found his footing under Claude Noel, Burmistrov went back home to Russia, where he just helped Kazan to a division title and deep playoff run. Now he has returned to Winnipeg, where the Jets are much different. Has he followed suit?
The one thing I'll always remember about Alexander Burmistrov during his Barrie Colts days is how skinny he looked. He was a perfect example of a prospect who had great tools; you just had to forecast what he would look like once a couple years in the weight room kicked in.
But the Atlanta Thrashers needed talent right away and the eighth overall pick in the 2010 draft went straight to the NHL, where he survived and contributed. Then the team moved to Winnipeg, where all the good vibes of NHL-starved Manitoba fans couldn't push an underdeveloped squad into the post-season under coach Claude Noel. And Burmistrov certainly didn't thrive under the conditions, either.
So the lanky young Russian returned to his homeland, playing two years in the KHL for Ak Bars Kazan, his local squad.
Now he's back.
Most notably, Burmistrov now looks a lot more physically mature. Maybe it was the home cooking, maybe it's just the fact he's now 23 instead of 19, but he looks different. And he's excited to re-join a Jets team that is not only successful, but now coached by Paul Maurice.
“Everybody in Russia knew I was coming back," he said. “I’m pretty excited. It’s a comeback to the league. New coach, the team looks different and I’m looking forward to it.”
As great as it was for the Jets to finally make the playoffs in their second go-around in Winnipeg, Burmistrov actually had an even better 2014-15. His Ak Bars squad went all the way to the Gagarin Cup final before losing the championship series to SKA St. Petersburg. All that experience will help as he hooks back up with a Winnipeg squad that has designs on more than just showing up this year.
Burmistrov loved his time in Kazan (where he also played as a youngster before de-camping for the Ontario League) and the Ak Bars fans were "unbelievable," during his tenure. But he also kept an eye on the best league in the world.
“I watched a lot actually," he said. "Sometimes after a game you can’t sleep right away, so I’d turn on the NHL Network.”
The real challenge of course, will come once he hits the ice. The fact Winnipeg is so much deeper now is both a pro and a con for the shifty center: the team is better, but he'll have to work harder for his ice time. He wasn't a top scorer in Ak Bars and Maurice noted earlier in the summer that Burmistrov might fill the void left by two-way threat Michael Frolik, who left via free agency for Calgary.
I'm sure there's also a contingent of fans and pundits who will want to see Burmistrov re-prove himself at the NHL level. Though the Russian noted that the recent flurry of KHL signings over here (including Ak Bars teammate Evgeny Medvedev in Philadelphia) indicates how good the upstart circuit was in 2014-15, the KHL is still not the NHL. And leaving a tough situation in Winnipeg for a cozy one in Kazan does raise questions. So has Burmistrov grown since his initial departure?
“We’ll see," he said. "I hope so. I think I grew as a player and a person. I think I’m different now.”