On Monday night at Madison Square Garden, San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns played in his 800th career regular season game. But the 31-year-old is still playing with the vigor of a dynamic, young star.
And Monday’s game was a prime example of that. Despite the Sharks losing, 7-4, to the Rangers, Burns was clearly the brightest spot. He scored a pair of goals, chipped in with an assist, and logged 24:48 of ice time.
After Tuesday’s game against the Islanders, the Ontario native now has eight points (3-5—8), good for the league lead.
His fast start out of the gates has given him the best offensive start to a season in his career, while Burns has logged at least 22:00 of ice time in regular season games all but once, dating back to March 12 of last year.
It’s almost as if Burns is getting better with age.
In 2003, Minnesota drafted him with the 20th overall selection. He went on to play in 36 games with the Wild the following season. The next year Burns became a larger part of the Wild lineup, playing in 72 regular season games and logging 16 points (4-12—16) with a plus-minus rating of minus-seven and an average ice time of 14:07.
On June 24, 2011 he was acquired by the Sharks in a trade and the move to the Bay Area boosted his stock.
And nowhere was that more evident than during the 2014-15 season. Coming off a year where he logged a career-high plus-minus of plus-26, Burns started to show an increase in his offensive skill, notching 60 points (17-43—60) in all 82 of San Jose’s regular season games that season.
He then followed that up by posting a career-high 75 points (27-48—75) in all 82 regular season games last year in a season that also saw him post a career-high 25:52 in average ice time.
Others around the NHL have taken notice of Burns in recent seasons, and it’s not just because of his trademark beard. He received Norris Trophy consideration two seasons ago, while he received Hart Trophy consideration last season and finished third in Norris voting only behind L.A.’s Drew Doughty and Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson.
And with the way Burns’ stock continues to climb, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be in the Hart Trophy conversation again this season.
What it all comes down to is Burns is the right player for the right team at the right time.
After coming up just two wins short of winning the first Stanley Cup in franchise history, expectations loom large over the Sharks dressing room this season. And while expectations have been high there for a while, it’s the result of last season coupled with the fact that longtime staples like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are entering the later stages of their careers — and the final year of their contracts — that make the urgency to win now seem even more intense.
But Burns, whose contract also expires after this season, brings more than just strong defense and a scoring touch to the lineup. His quirky personality is a great fit for a Bay Area sports market that enjoys big characters, and it’s also helped loosen up what has been in the past described as a “tight” dressing room.
When asked by the San Jose Mercury News how he feels heading into his 800th career regular season game, Burns said, “Feel great. Feel young. Feel like 200 games, just smarter.” Burns also mentioned to the publication that he and his teammates are having “a lot of fun” and the coaching staff has helped to cultivate a good environment.
As Burns enters his 13th season of NHL action, his stock on and off the ice has never been higher, and the Sharks are hoping that the youthful exuberance he still displays at 31, along with his strong two-way play, will pay big dividends in a season that carries so much importance.