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30 in 30: Sharks X-factor Burns a Force at Forward

Tuesday, 08.06.2013 / 1:03 PM / News
NHL.com

The San Jose Sharks roared out of the gate in 2012-13, going 7-0-0 through January while never scoring fewer than three goals. The team then proceeded to go winless in seven straight, and during February scored three or more goals once in 12 games. The Sharks needed offensive answers, and they needed them fast.

Would they tap a prospect to help jump-start the offensive engine? Pick up a depth veteran off waivers? Make a big trade to acquire one?

How about moving a defenseman to forward?

It wouldn't be the first option for most teams, but that’s exactly what Sharks general manager Doug Wilson and coach Todd McLellan did when they bumped Brent Burns to forward for a March 12 game against the St. Louis Blues. Burns had played forward before -- he was a power forward during his junior-hockey career in the Ontario Hockey League then split time between forward and defense with the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League when McLellan was coach. But since arriving in the NHL during the 2003-04 season, Burns had been a defenseman exclusively.

Burns scored that night against the Blues -- his first point in an injury-riddled season -- and added a goal two nights later against the Los Angeles Kings. Burns stayed up front the rest of the season, skating mostly on a line with Joe Thornton and TJ Galiardi, and his nine goals and 11 assists in 24 games helped revive a flailing Sharks attack.

His bruising style and heat-seeking shot made him a key part of San Jose's "reset/refresh" philosophy, which recommitted the team to a physical, attacking game.

"He is a horse out there," Wilson said. "When he gets going and gets in on the forecheck, he meshes in with how we wanted to play the game: Attack, make the other team defend around their net."

Despite Burns' success on the top lines -- he scored two goals and had two assists in 11 Stanley Cup Playoff games -- the Sharks stayed quiet on whether Burns would play forward in 2013-14. On July 5, Wilson told reporters Burns would remain at right wing, though he clarified to NHL.com that fans also would see him at the point on the power play. Ultimately, Wilson said, the decision was an easy one thanks to Burns' versatility and team-first attitude.

"We went to Brent and said, 'This is what we think is best for the team,'" Wilson told NHL.com. "He didn't even hesitate. He said, 'Absolutely, let's go.' That tells you a lot about Brent Burns. He's a team-first guy and he's going to be valuable to us for many years going forward, whether as a forward or a defenseman. It's a luxury to have a guy who can play multiple positions."

Wilson equated Burns' value to the Sharks to that of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

"He's a difference-maker, whether he plays defense, whether he plays forward or whether he plays the point on the power play," Wilson said. "We kid around a little bit. We have a very close relationship with the 49ers, so we kind of call him our Kaepernick. You've got to figure out a way to stop this guy."

For all of Burns' success and versatility, there is a difference between jump-starting an offense and being a consistent performer over the course of an 82-game season. For example, there are few who would anticipate Burns matching his 3.39 points-per-60 minutes at even strength from 2012-13, an average that ranked just below League leader Sidney Crosby.

Burns may not match those numbers in 2013-14, but Wilson is confident he will pick up where he left off and survive the rigors of a full season at forward.

"He's 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, and he's a fitness guy," Wilson said. "I wouldn't want to play against him, that's all I can tell you."

Author: Davis Harper | NHL.com Staff Writer

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PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 z - ANA 82 54 20 8 266 209 116
2 y - COL 82 52 22 8 250 220 112
3 x - STL 82 52 23 7 248 191 111
4 x - SJS 82 51 22 9 249 200 111
5 x - CHI 82 46 21 15 267 220 107
6 x - LAK 82 46 28 8 206 174 100
7 x - MIN 82 43 27 12 207 206 98
8 x - DAL 82 40 31 11 235 228 91
9 PHX 82 37 30 15 216 231 89
10 NSH 82 38 32 12 216 242 88
11 WPG 82 37 35 10 227 237 84
12 VAN 82 36 35 11 196 223 83
13 CGY 82 35 40 7 209 241 77
14 EDM 82 29 44 9 203 270 67

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Pavelski 82 41 38 23 79
J. Thornton 82 11 65 20 76
P. Marleau 82 33 37 0 70
L. Couture 65 23 31 21 54
B. Burns 69 22 26 26 48
T. Wingels 77 16 22 11 38
D. Boyle 75 12 24 -8 36
J. Demers 75 5 29 14 34
T. Hertl 37 15 10 11 25
M. Nieto 66 10 14 -4 24
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
A. Stalock 12 5 2 .932 1.87
A. Niemi 39 17 7 .913 2.39
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