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Brent Burns better as forward or D-man, clean-cut or mountain man?

Ken Campbell
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Brent Burns (Photo courtesy San Jose Sharks) Author: The Hockey News

News

Brent Burns better as forward or D-man, clean-cut or mountain man?

Ken Campbell
By:

Brent Burns and some of his teammates participated in Burnzie's Buzzcut for Charity and here are the results. He's also moved back to defense this season and finds himself among the leading scorers among rearguards in the NHL.

San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns never gave much thought to how cutting off all his hair might affect his game. In case you haven’t been keeping track, Burns is back on the blueline for the Sharks this season and is among the leaders in scoring by rearguards.

Earlier this week, he also came down from his refuge high in the mountains and had his head shaved and all his facial hair removed in the name of charity. Along with teammates Joe Pavelski, James Sheppard, Mirco Mueller and Chris Tierney, Burns raised more than $15,000 for Defend the Blueline, the Katie Moore Foundation and the San Francisco Zoo. But hockey players can be a rather superstitious lot and there must be some concern that Burns was messing with his mojo, right?

“I wasn’t really thinking about that until you brought it up,” Burns told thn.com. “So if something happens, I might have to come after you.”

Last week Sharks coach Todd McLellan called Burns, “an absolute force for us” on the Sharks blueline. After the better part of two years playing forward, Burns is adjusting to the defensive part of the game and gives the Sharks more options offensively from the back end. Part of the reason why the Sharks thought they could part with Dan Boyle was they knew the offensive thrust Burns possessed and that he could transition back to defense.

At this point in his career, the recollections of when he played defense and forward are even becoming a little blurry for Burns himself. But here’s the lineage as far as he can recall it: Drafted as a center by the Brampton Battalion of the Ontario League, Burns first moved back to defense in Jr. A hockey before going back to center in his only season in Brampton. He played most of his first NHL season as an 18-year-old right winger with the Minnesota Wild, then was shuttled between forward and defense until playing the rest of his Minnesota tenure as a defenseman. Upon arriving in San Jose, he played defense his first full season, then moved to forward during the lockout season of 2012-13 and spent all last season up front before moving back to defense this season.

Whew, that’s a lot of moving around. Burns’ move back to the blueline was a pretty huge talking point last summer as the Sharks tried to move on from their playoff meltdown in the first round against the Los Angeles Kings. But if the Sharks were going to move on from the Boyle era, they had to either trade for or find a defenseman who could quarterback the power play. Luckily, they had him in their lineup already. For his part, Burns isn’t terribly surprised he’s been able to produce the offense he has so far.

“I’d like to think I was a top-end defenseman before, too,” Burns said. “I knew going back was going to be an adjustment that would take some time, but I train hard and I’m lucky to play with some great players and have some great coaches who want to help me. If you put those things together, it gives you a pretty good basis for success.”

Certainly working under the watchful eye of Larry Robinson doesn’t hurt. It helps, too, that Burns has a working knowledge of the position and a diligent partner in rookie Mirco Mueller. In fact, you might be able to argue that Burns has the opportunity to produce more offense from the back end because he can get more ice time, has a more expansive vantage point and is a little like Chris Pronger from the point, meaning his shot somehow seems to find its way to the net through 50 sets of legs and goes about a foot off the ice.

“For me, my shot is one of my strengths and I get the puck a lot more with a little more time,” Burns said. “It’s a totally different game playing forward and I was probably a bit more tired playing forward than I was playing ‘D’. I’ve always said I want to be on the ice as much as possible.”

There are some kinks to work out. The play in his own zone is a work in progress and Burns leads the NHL with 22 giveaways, but that’s a stat that top players are always going to have high numbers because they have the puck on their sticks so much. Now that he thinks he may be/just might be/possibly back on defense to stay, Burns believes he can be put himself in the NHL’s elite.

“I know there’s a lot of unbelievable defenseman in the NHL,” he said, “but to be a top guy I think you have to believe you can be and I think I can be one.”

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Brent Burns better as forward or D-man, clean-cut or mountain man?