Asked what he knew of Todd Richards
upon the coach's arrival in Minnesota, Wild defenseman Brent Burns
could think of only one thing.
"That he wins everywhere," Burns told NHL.com.
Burns is finding out in the preseason exactly how the NHL rookie coach does it. There's little doubt the puck-rushing, 24-year-old blue-liner from Ajax, Ont., will catch on quickly and enjoy the ride, because under Richards the Wild will look a whole lot different than they did when Jacques Lemaire
was the bench boss.
The Wild will attack on the forecheck and encourage their defensemen to join the rush. They want to move the puck up the ice as fast as they can, and Burns' skill set appears perfectly suited for such a style.
Some pundits have written that Burns could be in line for a breakout season similar to what we saw in Washington last season with Norris Trophy finalist Mike Green
, who had 31 goals and 73 points.
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said he's not ready to put any quantified expectations on Burns, but surely he knows how seamlessly the young defenseman should be able to fit into Richards' system.
"I think it's a system that is certainly tailor-made to his strengths as a player," Fletcher told NHL.com. "He's played forward in his career, so he has terrific offensive instincts and he's a great skater. We look forward to watching him play in this system. With skill, size and skating being the strengths of his game, it should dovetail nicely into the system we want to play."
First, though, Burns has to stay healthy. He sat out the last quarter of the 2008-09 season with post-concussion symptoms and a shoulder injury. Burns, though, had surgery on his shoulder and his headaches are gone.
"Brent attended my introductory news conference because he was in town and I was able to speak with him the day I was hired to get a sense of his health," Fletcher said. "He has been around all summer training and getting in shape. He's healthy at this point."
Which means the 6-foot-5, 219-pound offensive threat can resume a career that looked so promising two seasons ago when he had 43 points in 82 games. He was limited to 27 points in 59 games last season and played with a concussion for more than a month before it was diagnosed.
"You take the worst-case scenario of what could happen to you before a big year and it pretty much happened to me," Burns said. "I played forward for a lot of the time and then I had my shoulder (injury) and then my head (injury). It was tough, yeah."
"I think it's a system that is certainly tailor-made to his strengths as a player. He's played forward in his career, so he has terrific offensive instincts and he's a great skater. We look forward to watching him play in this system. With skill, size and skating being the strengths of his game, it should dovetail nicely into the system we want to play."
-- Wild GM Chuck Fletcher
It's unlikely we'll see Richards shift Burns' position in his attacking system, and the continuity should help. So, too, should Burns' last month of training, because beforehand he couldn't do much more than ride his bicycle, which he likes to do in 45-mile clips.
The headaches were bad and his shoulder still was healing. He didn't skate hard until he arrived in Calgary as one of the 46 players invited to Canada's Olympic orientation camp. After a few skates there Burns finally was able to say, "I feel normal."
"Usually I train pretty hard in the summer, but I had to take it slow," he said. "It took a while before I could train hard, so no, I'm not where I'd like to be, but I don't think there's a much better place to get into shape than here (at the orientation camp) with these guys chasing you around. It's great for my rehab and my confidence."
Burns doesn't know what to make of his chances of making the Olympic team. He was one of 16 defensemen in camp and Team Canada Executive Director Steve Yzerman
said Burns and Dallas captain Brenden Morrow
, who is coming off knee surgery, have a lot to prove in the first two and a half months of the season.
"I don't think it adds motivation," Burns said of being on Yzerman's radar. "I just think it makes it more exciting. If I get the chance (to play in the Olympics), then it's just a great reward."
The reward should arrive a heck of a lot sooner for Burns, who finally is going to get a chance to play in a system that caters to what he does best.
"He's a guy that is basically still a couple of years away from entering the prime of his career if you really want to look at it," Fletcher said. "I have said this to a few people -- Brent Burns
' best days are still ahead of him. Many defensemen in this League hit their prime in their late 20s. That's the exciting thing about Brent."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.