What's it like proving that once you slip past the NHL drafts you can come back and surprise everyone? Just ask Alexandre Burrows.
The 6'1", 190 lb, forward from Pincourt, Quebec played down in Junior A while players his age were drafted, and setting their sights on playing in the NHL. Burrows didn't even think about getting drafted to an NHL club let alone actually playing for one.
"I was different than the other guys, most of them were looking into playing in the NHL at 16 and 17 and looking forward to their draft year, but that wasn't my case, I just wanted to play for fun, and that's what I've been doing my whole life. I worked hard, and finally got a few breaks here and there, and now I'm in the NHL."
Hard work has paid off for Burrows who played for the Manitoba Moose of the AHL earlier this season. After leading the pack with 30 points in 33 games he was just what the Canucks needed while the injury bug held Richard Park, and Matte Cooke temporarily off the Canucks roster.
Burrows, now 24 has demonstrated that inexperience doesn't necessarily equate to hesitance, chipping in four goals and three assists in the first fourteen games he played with the Canucks.
Burrows had much more to celebrate this New Years than merely the arrival of 2006. He received a call from his General Manager, Craig Heisinger who relayed the good news; Burrows had been called up to play with the Canucks and would meet the team in St. Louis on January 2nd to make his NHL debut.
Burrows is the type of player that if you're not looking for him out on the ice he can go somewhat unnoticed. That is until he goes in full force on the forecheck, gives a good hit, and manages to throw in a goal, all in the event of one game.
Burrows, certainly exudes a kind of confidence and eagerness that caught the attention of Head coach, Marc Crawford who commented on Burrows motivation. "He's got a great belief in himself, and above anything else like opportunity or anything like that, it is his belief in himself that drives his efforts right now."
Captain, Markus Naslund concurs that it's nice to see an underdog like Burrows step up, and bring as much intensity to his 20th NHL game as his first. "It shows that the work goes a long way, obviously you need talent too, but he's a hard working guy and every team needs a guy like him."
When asked if Burrows enthusiasm has been a good influence on the team's work ethic, Naslund spurted back jokingly, "What, We're not enthusiastic?" but agreed, commenting that "It's fun to watch [Burrows], he brings a lot of energy to the lineup."
One might retort, "Who wouldn't work hard for an extra zero at the end of their paycheck", but for Alex Burrows having the opportunity to play at the NHL level has much more depth than that.
The battle to get to the NHL has not been an easy one for Burrows. After not being drafted, he played for the Shawinigan Cataractes in the QMJHL and later, hung around in the ECHL for longer then he would have liked.
Burrows played for the Greenville Grrrowl of the ECHL in 2002, but was traded to the Baton Rouge Kingfish later in 2003. That team dissolved by the time the season was over.
The following year, despite an impressive season with the Columbia Inferno, it took Burrows two tries before landing a spot on the AHL's Manitoba Moose roster.
Burrows attributes much of his success with the Canucks, to his early hockey experience, especially the preparation he received playing for the Manitoba Moose last year during the lock out. "Playing against top liners, and playing a lot of minutes like 20-25 a game has helped me out a lot".
Burrows scored his first NHL goal on January 10th against the Toronto Maple Leafs at General Motors Place and ever since, Marc Crawford had nothing but positive words to describe Burrows' play.
"He's the kind of player the more you watch him the more you like him, and the more you see the good things he does." Mark Crawford commented before the Canucks embarked on their seven game road trip. "He's a very functional player, a really good quality positional player, great on the forecheck, great at creating loose pucks, great stick."
Undoubtedly, Burrows first NHL goal will be up at the top of his list of greatest hockey moments, that and playing against his favorite childhood club, The Montreal Canadiens. Burrows scored the second of an all time record six Vancouver goals in the first period, finishing with a 6-2 victory over the Habitants.
"Growing up the Canadiens were my favorite team.....they have been a dynasty for so long and won so many Stanley cups. It was really neat playing against them." Burrows was asked about how his friends back home in Quebec reacted to a horrendous defeat for the Canadiens and a game of a lifetime for Burrows.
Burrows hesitates, explaining "They were really happy for me, although I know my buddies probably stopped watching the game after the first period because they're die-hard Canadien fans."
Burrows, although a newly acquired Canuck, seems to have a kind of natural chemistry with the team that gives the impression he's been playing with the team for awhile. This is perhaps, because in a sense, he has.
Burrows had the advantage of playing with some of the Canuck counterparts as Nolan Baumgartner, Ryan Kesler, Wade Brookbank and Alex Auld, who all played on the Manitoba Moose last year. As a result, making the transition from Moose to Canuck has been almost effortless for Burrows.
Burrows has been playing mostly with former Moose player, Ryan Kesler, on a line with Jarkko Ruutu, which seems to have taken a rather good turn. "So far it's been really good, we haven't given up a five on five goal.... and we're chipping in with a few goals here and there. I think our role is to give a good forecheck, get some hits, and bring energy."
Speaking of roles, Burrows has undeniably found his since filling the Canuck roster. When I asked him which Canuck he patterns his skating style after, Burrows comments that he's a mixture of Matt Cooke and Jarkko Ruutu, although modestly adding that it's hard to make a direct comparison as "both those guys have much more experience then I do".
Burrows continued to display his versatility as a player when we watched him drop the gloves and throw a few punches during his time so far with the Canucks. It is hard to believe that Burrows, who has a very personable and friendly demeanor off the ice has a history of stirring up trouble dating back to his ECHL days.
When Burrows played for Baton Rouge he racked up a staggering 64 penalty minutes in a mere 13 games - almost five penalty minutes a game. "I used to get frustrated a lot, I'm trying to be more focused on my game now instead of fighting and being frustrated for no reason."
Since then, Burrows has toned it down a little, collecting 24 minutes in the twenty games he's played with the Canucks so far. But, you never know, Burrows may decide to stir up some aggressive juices again, after all, he never ceases to surprise us.
The best piece of advice that Burrows has received since he ventured to Vancouver is from his parents, who remained supportive through all those early morning drives to hockey practice and hectic game schedules with a Canadian kid eager to play hockey growing up.
"They told me to work hard and not assume that I'm going to be here the rest of the year. I have to focus on being ready every day at practice..... and every time I step out on the ice, I have to prove to everyone that I should stay in Vancouver."
So, did Burrows ever imagine that once he slipped past the NHL draft he would ever get his chance at the big times? "Maybe in my wildest dreams. I'd like to stay here all year, but we'll see. What ever happens, happens...."