Wild's Brent Burns: Forward-thinking defender

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 14, 2007 - 8:25 PM

Brent Burns' two game-winning goals in overtime are the latest signs of his maturation as an NHL player.

SHERWOOD PARK, ALBERTA - If Brent Burns isn't careful, the Wild might have another brainstorm and attempt to turn the promising young defenseman back into a forward.

After all, Burns certainly has looked like a forward the past two games by pouncing on rebounds a stone's throw from the net for back-to-back, last-minute overtime goals. He's the first defenseman to score overtime winners in consecutive games since the Rangers' Tom Poti in 2003.

"I'll definitely remember this forever," Burns said after Tuesday's winner at Vancouver, which like his one Sunday against Colorado, came off a rebound after a tremendous play by Marian Gaborik cutting to the net.

"The last time I scored an OT goal was junior. So to get two, I don't even know what to say. When you get to go on the ice with Gabby and Rolie [Brian Rolston] and Demo [Pavol Demitra], these guys make such good plays. I mean, both times the puck just squirted to me. You follow Gabby around, good things happen."

Burns, who turned 22 last Friday, has spent his first three seasons with the Wild bouncing back and forth between forward and defenseman.

But the experiment's over. As with all young defensemen, his development has been gradual, and it certainly wasn't aided by juggling positions. But Burns has spent the past 42 games on the blue line, and between his increasing physicality, offense, outstanding shot and long reach, he's blossoming into the stud blue-liner the Wild envisioned when it drafted him 20th overall in 2003.

At 6 feet 4, 200 pounds, Burns has all the tools to be a high-end defenseman for years.

"He's demonstrating he wants to move beyond just being in the league," General Manager Doug Risebrough said. "It was tough for Burnsie. He was 18 years old. We gave him a spot. We gave him free places in the lineup. We switched him between positions.

"He started to realize if he's to stay in the lineup, it's up to him. And now he's taking charge of it. Now he's more than in the lineup. He's an impact guy in the lineup."

Burns' winning goal Tuesday came after he was victimized by two fluky bounces that led to Vancouver goals two minutes apart in the first period. On Jan Bulis' goal, Burns astutely poke-checked the puck out of the zone. But it deflected back in and suddenly Burns was outmanned. On Matt Cooke's goal, the puck deflected in off Burns' skate.

Burns said Tuesday night that a few months ago, those kind of bad bounces would have derailed him.

But veteran defense partner Keith Carney, 37, immediately got Burns refocused.

"I was pretty rattled on the bench, but Carns sat next to me and said, 'Kid, don't worry about it. Just two bounces,' " Burns said. "That's Carns right there for you. He not only turned the entire game around with the [steal and pass] he made [on Mikko Koivu's goal], he's just talking so much all the time and keeping me and the rest of the guys confident."

Burns continued, saying: "The biggest thing for me is trying to keep away from the rollercoaster, you know? You get so up by [scoring the OT winner against Colorado] and then two tough bounces against Vancouver, you're minus-2 and you're not so confident anymore.

"A couple months ago, I'd be sitting on the bench, saying a couple words, beating myself up. Now, I know bad bounces happen to everybody, it doesn't matter who you are. The game's so fast, it happens. Nobody can play good all the time."

Rolston joked that the team spent much of Wednesday "bringing Burnsie back down to Earth" after his back-to-back heroics.

But then Rolston turned serious, saying: "What a step he's made this year. He's playing with such confidence. He's a real talent, a real find. When I think back to when I was his age, I didn't have a sniff, I didn't know what I was doing.

"But he's so poised. And he's only going to get better as he gets bigger and stronger."

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