Who is the pivotal player on the San Jose Sharks roster for the 2013-14 season? Is it Logan Couture? Is it Joe Thornton? Is it Antti Niemi? Is it Raffi Torres?
How about a vote for the guy who plays both forward and defense, who is among the younger crop of star level players who are expected to perform, and who may be the most versatile guy on the roster? Yes, I’m talking about the guy who wears #88, Brent Burns.
With the Sharks defense looking positively fully stocked, it’s only natural to assume that the best use of Burns ice time will be up front, where he proved to be devastating to the opposition at times last year. His ice time was better managed, he still played the point on one of the Sharks power play units, and he wound up scoring 9 goals and 11 assists for 20 points in 30 games. If you play that out over an 82 game schedule, that translates into a 25 goal, 30 assist, 55 point season under normal circumstances.
In the playoffs, Burnzie was a huge factor in parts of the Vancouver sweep. I’m thinking of his 5 shots, 2 hits, and 2 assists, including an assist on the overtime winner, in Game 2 at Rogers Arena. I’m also thinking about his 6 hits, his even strength goal, and his heavy presence in Game 4 vs. Los Angeles, which turned out to be a 2-1 Sharks win.
There are a few advantages to using Burns up front, as we have seen. His sheer size and strength is overpowering to the other side when he’s skating in straight lines in north-south fashion. He can make plays quickly and instinctively, and is relying on a unique ability to take risks in a positive way for his club. He is aware enough of the responsibilities of playing lots of defense to get back quickly to help his teammates. He is also an offensive force without being a defensive liability when he plays the point on the power play.
Much of this change was made possible by the Sharks scouting staff, because their diligent work brought talented youngsters like Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Matt Irwin, Justin Braun, Jason Demers, and Matt Tennyson to the fold. While Vlasic has ascended to a top level player, it’s also very gratifying to see that the others are beginning to fulfill the promise that the staff saw in them when they were playing in junior or college hockey.
That allows Burns to focus on right wing, and playing the point on the power play. He won’t play as many minutes up front as he will on defense – witness his average of about 18:17 of ice time during the Western Conference Semi-Final series against Los Angeles – but note that his contributions were more energetically and efficiently maximized during those very minutes. That fact makes San Jose a greater threat.
The versatility of Burnzie moving back to playing defense also helps, including when he plays the point on the power play and in the instance of any injuries. His tremendous skating ability allows for a smooth transition.
Mentally, Brent’s game is maturing as well. There’s always a bit of unpredictability with his game, but there is more method to the madness as the years and experience add on. In so doing, he makes the Sharks a more dangerous club when they hit the ice for a big game.
Off the ice, Burns is a staunch advocate of those in uniform. He understands the commitment of the armed forces, and through the Burnzie’s Battalion program, has made it possible for injured servicemen and their families to have a respite from these commitments with a night at the SAP Center and a Sharks game.
In summary, with a full recovery from his injury woes at the beginning of last season, and with a full year under his belt, Brent Burns could be that pivotal player who gets the Sharks skating to daylight in the battle for the Stanley Cup. It’s a big year for him and for the team.
All Sharks fans look forward to the journey that is starting in just a couple of months. We can’t wait to bring it to you on KFOX 98.5/102.1 and the San Jose Sharks Radio Network.