Right Place, Right Time

You always hear about the guy who was in the right place at the right time. Brent Burns is surely one of them.

After playing minor hockey in Toronto as a forward, Burns was drafted by the OHL’s Brampton Battalion in 2001. Like most major junior draft picks, Burns needed time before joining the OHL. He opted to stay close to his Barrie, Ontario home and play Tier-2 Junior hockey for the Couchiching Terriers.

Burns had a modest rookie season, racking up 11 points in 47 games, primarily as a forward. Late in the season, the Terriers ran into injury problems on their blueline. Dropping Burns back to defence would not only solve their manpower problem on defence, it would also help Burns increase his icetime dramatically. He readily agreed to the offer and moved back for the balance of the season.

Right place. Right time.

Apparently Brampton boss Stan Butler was less than impressed with the decision. He saw Burns as a forward, and sure enough that’s where Burns played for the Battalion the following winter, racking up 40 points in 68 games, most of them coming during a strong second half. Minnesota Wild scouts took note of his strong finish and “reached” a bit by selecting Burns with their first overall pick.

As a rookie in Minnesota, Burns fell under the tutelage of coach Jacques Lemaire, who was slowly moulding Burns into a two-way forward, when suddenly, late in the regular season, the Wild ran into injury problems on the blueline. Not wanting to interrupt their AHL farm team’s playoff run, Lemaire toyed with the idea of converting Burns into a defenceman, citing his excellent backward skating skills and all-round mobility. Burns was game, looking for additional icetime anywhere he could get it.

Right place. Right time.

After being traded to the San Jose Sharks in 2011, Burns role was in flux for some time. Although he started on defence, midway through the 2012-13 season he was moved up front yet again, hoping to add some size and mobility to a somewhat stagnant group of forwards. With the highly-skilled veteran Dan Boyle already back on defence handling the puck-moving duties, the Sharks felt the move would give them better overall balance.

The following off-season, the Sharks surprisingly passed on resigning Boyle, opting to return Burns back to defence one more time.

Right place. Right time.

Think not?

A Tier-2 Junior team runs into injury problems. Burns moves back to play defence. An NHL coach doesn’t want to interrupt his farm team’s playoff run. Burns moves back to play defence. An NHL team decides to let their best puck-moving defenceman leave. Burns moves back to play defence.

Right place. Right time.

And a Norris Trophy to boot.


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