The NHL Draft takes place June 22-23 in Columbus and as always, Sharks Director of Scouting Tim Burke will be at the forefront of many decisions. Burke likes his role behind the scenes, but there is no question he is one of the most important people in the Sharks organization.
As a child, Burke was similar to most kids, playing whatever sport everyone else was participating in.
“I liked playing all sports,” said Burke. “I caddied and still play a lot of golf.”
Burke, a middle child from a family of seven boys, learned a lot through imitating his older brothers.
“We were out on the pond behind the house at a young age on,” said Burke.
While playing anything he could, Burke excelled at hockey and baseball, both of which he eventually played collegiately at the University of New Hampshire.
As to which he was better at in high school?
“It was pretty close.”
However, in college Burke blossomed into a hockey All-American.
“After my second year, I was drafted by the WHA and then the NHL,” said Burke. “Then I started weight training more.”
Burke’s draft stock soared at UNH as he was selected in the second round by the WHA’s Chicago Cougars and in the NHL’s seventh round by the Montreal Canadiens.
“By the time I was out of college, Chicago had folded and my rights were with the Whalers. The league (AHL) was on shaky ground.”
Thus he decided to pursue the NHL route. Burke spent six years in four leagues chasing his NHL dream, but when he realized it wasn’t to be, he jumped into coaching, accepting a job at Princeton.
“I started coaching and did it for three years. I knew a couple people in the right place. I think they hired me because I would relocate.”
Though not as a player, Burke finally got a taste of the NHL, departing Princeton for a job with the New Jersey Devils.
“Then I scouted part of a season for New Jersey and coached in the AHL for the last part of the season,” said Burke.
At that point, Burke’s career choice between the NHL and the university life was solidified.
“I wanted to be in pro hockey,” said Burke. “College was a great learning experience. I had chances to go back and be a head coach, but I didn’t want to tell kids I would be there for four years when I wouldn’t. In pro hockey, it is more 24/7. With colleges, you have a lot of things outside hockey to deal with. Hockey is only part of the equation. I didn’t mind recruiting, but very little of the day went to hockey.”
Burke then ventured out to a new hockey club on the west coast.
“I knew Jack (Ferreira, the Sharks first General Manager) a little bit,” said Burke. “He knew me from when he was with the Whalers. They were looking for a pro scout and I had been in New Jersey for five years and thought it was time to leave.”
Burke quickly moved to the amateur side of the Sharks scouting department, still playing a large role in all Sharks hockey decisions.
Being an NHL scouting director may sound glamorous, but the hours are long and there is a heavy amount of travel.
“I think I see 200-plus game a year, which is pretty standard,” said Burke. But not all the trips are as easy planned. “We had a couple of legendary trips to Russia.”
If the travel isn’t hard enough to take, the disappointments can be.
“It’s crazy sometimes. You go out on a trip, find out the guy you’re there to watch is injured and then go three hours in another direction. Or you get all the way out there and the guy is scratched.”
Burke may be the point person when the Sharks make their picks, but he relies heavily on his staff – Gilles Cote, Pelle Eklund, Pat Funk, Jack Gardiner, Rob Grillo, Karel Masopust, Cap Raeder and Graeme Townshend.
“I think some of the better picks are the ones the group is so strong on,” said Burke who points out that if a player really jumps to the group, then they will put in a recommendation to move up to grab the prospect.
That was the case with Steve Bernier.
“If the feeling is strong enough, you step up to take him earlier instead of sitting in the weeds and waiting.”
Burke is not one to brag about getting a player in the latter rounds, although there is still an art to picking later.
“A lot of people will say they had a great seventh round pick to distract from a blown second round pick,” said Burke. “Joe Pavelski
(a seventh round choice) was a huge risk. We should have moved up. We had the support (group backing) on the kid.”
That group mentality has helped the Sharks become the NHL’s best at developing home-grown talent, but Burke again gets back to the group mentality.
“If one guy really likes a player and four don’t, you’d better get away.”
Burke enjoys scouting the junior leagues across North America and the college ranks, but he especially enjoys one particular tournament.
“The World Juniors are spectacular, but it is on a big rink. It’s not the same as the NHL. The junior playoffs are a great indicator. I like the (NCAA) tournament too. They are all a little different, but I like them all.”
When it comes to finding the right player, Burke has literally been all over the world map in the first round, showing no biases to region or nationality. Before it was common to draft from Germany, Burke nabbed Marco Sturm (1996) and Marcel Goc (2001). He’s grabbed Patrick Marleau
(1997), Scott Hannan (1997), Ty Wishart (2006) and Devin Setoguchi (2005) from Western Canada. He’s twice picked U.S. college players, Milan Michalek and Lukas Kaspar landed from Czech, and Steve Bernier hails from Quebec. Wherever the player is Burke and his crew will find them.
Friday will begin his annual step toward restocking the Sharks talent pool. Just remember when some quiet steady defenseman from Quebec takes to the ice like Marc-Edouard Vlasic
did, a gentleman normally behind the scenes named Tim Burke played a large role in making that second round pick successful.