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Brent Burns of Sharks on pace for historic season

Defenseman powering San Jose offense, won't compare himself to legends

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / Senior Managing Editor

San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns doesn't want to be compared to legendary players like Ray Bourque.

But his performance so far this season is making those comparisons inevitable.

Burns enters the Sharks' home game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday (10:30 p.m. ET; CSN-CA, CSN-CH, NHL.TV) leading NHL defensemen with 21 goals and 51 points. That puts him on pace for some historic numbers, numbers that would be similar to the ones put up by players like Bourque and Paul Coffey, two players who were honored as part of the 100 Greatest NHL Players presented by Molson Canadian on Friday.

But Burns is not ready to have that conversation.

"I wouldn't compare myself to those guys. Those are legends," Burns said during the 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles. "I ran into Bourque coming off the elevator and I couldn't even talk. These guys are the reasons why I played hockey. They're guys I watched and pretended to be."

He doesn't have to pretend anymore.

Video: Four Line Challenge: Burns picks corner from red line

If he continues at his current pace Burns will score 34 goals, which would match Kevin Hatcher's total in 1992-93 for the sixth-most by a defenseman all time, just behind 37-goal seasons by Bobby Orr in 1970-71 and 1971-72 and Paul Coffey in 1984-85. Coffey's 48 goals in 1985-86 is the single-season record. Burns' pace of 83 points would be the most by a defenseman since Brian Leetch had 85 points with the New York Rangers in 1995-96.

When asked to characterize what kind of season he was having, Burns downplayed the potential historic nature of his performance thus far.

"I characterize it as halfway," he said. "There's a long way to go."

Burns also comes out of the break leading the NHL in shots on goal with 194 in 50 games, putting him six ahead of Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. If he can remain atop the NHL, Burns would be the first defenseman to lead the League in shots on goal since Bourque had 210 in 1994-95.

Ovechkin has led the NHL in shots on goal in every season of his career except one; Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins finished ahead of him in 2011-12.

For anyone to finish ahead of Ovechkin would be impressive, but for Burns to do it as a defenseman would be remarkable. If he keeps it up, Burns would be the third defenseman to lead the NHL in shots on goal since the League began tracking the statistic in 1967-68, joining Bourque, who did it three times, and Orr, who did it twice.

"I should probably pass more, eh?" Burns said when told of potentially joining that select company. "It would be cool, now that you say it, but I think that's just a strength of my game. If [Edmonton Oilers captain Connor] McDavid's not skating, his game's not where it should be at. I'm sure he goes into every game thinking, 'I know I'm the fastest guy out here, I've got to skate.'

"For me, I've got to shoot. The chemistry of our team and the way we play, that's my strength. So if I'm not doing it, I'm probably in La La Land and I've got to get another coffee in me."

Video: SJS@WPG: Burns cranks one-timer for power-play goal

More impressive than the number of shots Burns gets on net is the number that he attempts. According to, Burns has 450 shot-attempts in all situations, an average of 9.0 per game. His total is 74 more than Ovechkin in second place and 126 more than Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug, who's third. It is an astonishing gap, and it exemplifies the impact Burns can have on a game with his ability to shoot from all angles and at any time.

"He's pretty dominant out there," Sharks center Joe Pavelski said. "For how hard he can shoot it with just a snap shot, I think that allows him to get his puck through a few more times. He probably doesn't get enough credit for some of the plays off the net he makes, shooting off the net for tips and those types of plays. You realize if you work and get open, he's got a good sense for where you're at and he'll find you."

Pavelski is considered by most to be the best in the NHL at deflecting pucks, and combining that skill with a player like Burns who can get pucks to the net presents opposing teams with a tricky dilemma.

"He shoots everything, every single time he gets it," Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "Their power play is kind of set up for him to shoot those. The one thing with their team is they're so good at tipping pucks with Joe Pavelski, so you're not only worried about blocking the shot, you're also worried about him tipping it.

"So you're trying to do two things at once and you have to choose one or the other, so that kind of helps [Burns] get shots through."

Whatever it is that allows Burns to get that many shots on net, his teammates appreciate him for it and don't want him to change a thing.

"I don't think we really need to switch a lot of the things he's been doing lately," Pavelski said.

So to answer Burns' question: No, he should not start passing more.

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