Alexander Burmistrov is a man with a lot to prove. The eighth overall draft pick in 2010, his play has been uneven over the course of two full NHL seasons. Last year, he notched 28 points, including 13 goals, for the Winnipeg Jets.
With the lockout looming, it seemed natural the 20-year-old would return to his hometown of Kazan, Russia to join Ak Bars of the Kontinental Hockey League. He had played for the team before moving to North America, and even Ak Bars's coach apparently told a reporter that Burmistrov would be joining the roster.
The Jets had other plans, however, sending the young forward to the American Hockey League's St. John's IceCaps. It was easy to see as a demotion: the IceCaps play in a market of about 200,000, compared to the more than million in Kazan. Playing in the minors, which Burmistrov had never done, also entailed a big pay cut.
But at the IceCaps training camp in Corner Brook, Nfld., last week, he put a positive spin on the whole thing.
"I like to be here," he told the Globe. "Good group of guys, you know. It's always nice to be with them."
Asked how he felt about going to a minor-league team after two seasons in the top, he shrugged it off: "It's nothing to me, really...we have to play somewhere, you know, and they decided it would be better for me to play here."
These are stock answers, but watching him on the ice suggests they are sincere. He would skate out before practice began and pass the puck around with fellow players. In drills and scrimmages, he skated hard to get to the puck and paying close attention to the play.
In his first appearance as an IceCap, in an exhibition game last week against the Syracuse Crunch, Burmistrov may not have scored, but it certainly wasn't for lack of trying. He skated quickly, went straight to the net every chance he had and helped keep the pressure on Syracuse. He even had a thrilling breakaway during overtime, nearly winning the game.
But perhaps the one thing that was most apparent with Burmistrov last week was his demeanour. A slim, puckish figure with shaggy blonde hair and a small goatee, he smiles easily and always looks like he's enjoying himself when he's on the ice. So maybe it's true when he says it doesn't really matter whether he's in Kazan or Winnipeg or St. John's. The guy just likes to play.