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Canucks' Burrows the unlikeliest of stars

by Dave Lozo
LOS ANGELES -- There was a time when Alex Burrows was about as far from the NHL as any hockey player could be. After he went undrafted following his final year with the Shawinigan Cataractes of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he toiled for three ECHL seasons in such hockey hotbeds as South Carolina and Louisiana.

Burrows wasn't exactly living the dream, playing hockey in locales that are more interested in college football than low-level hockey.

"Obviously coming out of junior, my dream was to play in the NHL," Burrows said. "But just playing a professional sport as a 21-year-old, I thought it was pretty cool even though I was making 400 bucks a week."

Burrows said frustration was starting to build, so he set a deadline for getting a call-up to the AHL. If he couldn't get out of the ECHL, he was prepared to quit the game, go to college, and start a career in something else.

"It's tough to come out. There're not a lot of scouts down there," Burrows said. "So I told myself then, if at Christmas I'd still be there, I'd have to try to go back to school and try to do something that was a career. Good thing one week later I got called up (to the AHL Manitoba Moose) and never looked back."

Five years later, he's the leading goal-scorer on the top line of the Vancouver Canucks.

Every sport has its tales of players carving out careers after failing to hear the names called on draft day, but Burrows has transformed himself from a fourth-line role player into a 35-goal scorer playing alongside Henrik and Daniel Sedin. After 22 goals in his first 206 NHL games, Burrows has 63 in his last two seasons playing primarily with the Sedin twins, easily two of the most talented offensive players in the League.

Playing with the Sedins can be akin to being a third wheel on a date. The Sedins have played together since they were pre-teens, developing so much chemistry that it can make it tough for a newcomer to adjust to what they like to do. But to hear Henrik tell it, it was as if Burrows was their long-lost twin Canadian brother.

"It was quick, really quick," he said of the instant chemistry he and Daniel had with Burrows. "Some guys it's really quick. You know right away this is going to work, and he's one of them for sure."

When asked how the 29-year-old compares to some other players that have played with the Sedins, Henrik heaped some high praise on Burrows, a player who could've been a dentist or office manager today if he didn't catch his break six years ago.

Would you believe Henrik Sedin prefers Alex Burrows over Markus Naslund?

"We've never had one like Alex," Henrik said of the others who played on his line with Daniel. "Markus was a good fit … but Burrows has been the best so far."

What makes Burrows the perfect fit is he knows his role. He drives to the net, makes himself available and does whatever he can to get the puck onto the sticks of his playmaking linemates. He also has a knack for using his quickness and relative lack of size (he's 6-foot-1, 188 pounds) for getting open.

"I think he brings a pretty good forecheck," Daniel said. "He gets the pucks back for us. He reads guys so well so he gets open. He's a small player. That's the No. 1 thing."

"I don't think he does anything special -- he's a good hockey player," Henrik said. "He's got good hockey sense. He makes the easy play all the time. He's easy to read. He knows where we want to have the puck and we know where he's going to be. That's why it works so good I think."

"Those guys are spectacular players," Burrows said. "You saw again this year. With Hank winning the Art Ross, and Danny, if we would not have gotten injured, probably would be right behind them."

It's not as if Burrows hasn't played with a scoring champion before. While with the Columbia Inferno in 2003-04, he was on a line with Tim Smith, who led the ECHL with 95 points in 69 games.

"Now I'm playing with two of the top players in the world and it makes my job a lot easier, but back then I used to play with Tim Smith," Burrows said. "He used to lead the league in scoring. He was one of my good friends. He leads the league in Asia now, so that's kind of funny how it goes. Obviously the guys didn't get all the breaks I did, but I worked hard and I got here and I'm pretty happy."

But maybe Burrows is the one who deserves most of the credit for the Art Ross Trophy. After all, it's not as if Henrik Sedin and Tim Smith won any scoring titles before they started playing with Burrows.

"People have said so," Burrows said with a laugh, "but I like to give the credit to them."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter at: @DLozoNHL

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