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Brent Burns of Sharks entrenched among NHL elite

League's highest-scoring defenseman having fun, dominating opponents

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

BOSTON -- It did not look like a typical work day. As the snow turned blizzard-like outside TD Garden, the San Jose Sharks laughed and joked and transformed a morning skate into a party-like atmosphere. There were cheers and smiles and clear enjoyment, but none of them relished the day quite like the man with the missing teeth and the extra hair.

Brent Burns is having fun. He's been having fun for the past two seasons, and really for the years before that. But never has that fun turned into results the way it has of late, when the Sharks defenseman has moved into the true elite of the NHL.

Because, with apologies to Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, Burns might just be the most valuable player, or even the best player, in the NHL this season.

"Oh, it's incredible," Sharks center Joe Thornton said, pushing that theory. "I've raved about him for years now. I've said it numerous times: I think he's the most dominant player in the League. And I just think the way he plays, the amount of minutes he plays, how tough he is to play against, the skill set that he has, it's incredible."

Not that Burns agrees.

"I don't think that," he said. "I think that's pretty crazy. No. I think it's just been a benefit of playing with great players. Things have been going well."

That is quite an understatement.

Video: SJS@VAN: Burns crashes the net, buries Hertl's feed

Burns' 57 points are third in the NHL, three points behind Crosby and McDavid. He had scored a goal in eight consecutive road games before that streak ended Tuesday in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres. His 14-game road point streak came to an end in a 5-3 loss to the Boston Bruins on Thursday.

But it's a run that started long before those streaks.

Since Feb. 29, 2016, Burns has 36 goals, 69 assists and 105 points in 99 games, starting with seven goals and 17 assists in 21 games to end the 2015-16 season, followed by seven more goals and 17 assists in 24 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and 22 goals and 35 assists through 55 games this season.

"He's dominant," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "He's having a dominant year. He's obviously a huge part of our team. … There's no doubt he's as dominant a guy night in, night out as anyone in the League right now."

And is he getting better?

"He is getting better," DeBoer said. "I think for sure he's getting better. I think last year was a big step for him. This year, he's got another layer to his game, I think, in both ends of the rink and another layer of confidence in what he can do. I think it was important that he had a year like he had last year and he's built on that this year."

Though he's perfectly willing to take the spotlight for himself once the puck drops, Burns is eager to lavish praise on his teammates for the player he's become. That includes defense partner Paul Martin.

"We just have a great marriage, I think. He's a great partner," Burns said of Martin. "We don't fight. He puts the toilet seat down. It's nice."

Burns watches those teammates. He talks to them. He learns from them, including how crucial confidence is. That is what he sees reflected in his game, especially right now.

"That's one of the biggest things I've learned from getting to sit next to [Thornton] and just seeing the way he is at the rink every day: the quiet confidence, how he wants to be dominant every day," Burns said. "I think that's pretty important in our game; [there's] such a small difference between doing things and not doing things. But a lot of the stuff is just benefiting from playing with great players, having chemistry with them too."

The Sharks are benefiting. They are 8-2-2 in their past 12 games and, having risen to the top of the Pacific Division, appear ready for another long stay in the playoffs after a trip to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final.

Video: SJS@VAN: Burns blocks the camera with his stick

"Just been a fun place to come to the rink every day," Burns said. "With the atmosphere we have here, we have fun working, but we still have fun. I think that's a huge thing. That's key. I've always been the roller-coaster type of guy. You try to keep that roller coaster a little under control, but when you're having fun, you don't really think about it as work."

And, suddenly, you find yourself taking over the NHL.

"If you watch him on a daily basis, like we have the opportunity to, you realize how important he is to this team and what kind of talent he is," Thornton said. "So we're kind of spoiled that we get to see him so much. I just really, really enjoy watching him play. I get a good seat at it every night."

There is nothing more fun than that.

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