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

Tuesday, 08.06.2013 / 1:03 PM / News
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30 in 30: Sharks X-factor Burns a Force at Forward
Defenseman-turned-forward Brent Burns is ready to resume his scoring role up front for the Sharks.

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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STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 ANA 48 32 10 6 143 124 70
2 NSH 46 31 10 5 141 107 67
3 STL 46 29 13 4 148 111 62
4 CHI 47 30 15 2 148 108 62
5 WPG 49 26 15 8 138 122 60
6 SJS 48 25 17 6 131 132 56
7 VAN 46 26 17 3 124 118 55
8 CGY 48 26 19 3 140 126 55
9 LAK 47 20 15 12 129 126 52
10 COL 49 20 18 11 128 141 51
11 DAL 47 21 19 7 146 154 49
12 MIN 47 21 20 6 130 138 48
13 ARI 47 16 25 6 108 160 38
14 EDM 48 12 27 9 110 160 33

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Pavelski 48 24 18 10 42
L. Couture 48 18 24 2 42
J. Thornton 44 10 27 0 37
B. Burns 48 11 24 -6 35
P. Marleau 48 9 24 -10 33
T. Wingels 47 11 14 -2 25
J. Braun 47 1 18 4 19
T. Hertl 48 8 9 -2 17
M. Vlasic 47 6 10 13 16
J. Sheppard 42 4 9 -2 13
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
A. Niemi 19 11 5 .912 2.57
A. Stalock 5 5 1 .905 2.65
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