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Brent Burns and the rising tide (of shots)

The defender leads the NHL in shots.

San Jose Sharks v Arizona Coyotes Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Let’s start with a disclosure: Yes, Brent Burns has put more shots on net this season than anyone else in the NHL...but he also plays far more minutes than the forwards who traditionally lead this category (hi Alex Ovechkin!) and as such the stat can be a bit misleading. It’s still good! Great, even! But it needs context.

When we look at shot rate (how many shots are attempted per 60 minutes of ice time) we see a similar, if muted result. Burns is still one of the most aggressive shooters in the NHL, but he’s certainly not No. 1. Hell, he’s only No. 6 amongst defenders in shots per 60 minutes (min. 100 minutes, all strengths).

That’s not to diminish what Burns brings to the table. He plays a lot of minutes because of how dominant he is, of course, and I’m not about to complain about his shot rate. Burns adds to his value by playing so much — think of how WAR in baseball values players who play all 162 games in a season; it’s a similar thing. There’s inherent value in being out on the ice if you’re a good player.

Here’s something more fun to look at: how Burns shot rate has improved over the years. It peaked while he was a forward, which you can see in the below chart, but it’s been on the rise since the latter half of the 2014-15 season. That season was pretty terrible for the Sharks, but Burns eventually made a successful transition to his current position.

Like any player there are peaks and valleys in production, but clearly his shot rate as a defender since being a forward has dramatically increased over what he did in his first go around as a defender. There are other factors to consider, like the Sharks being a much better team now than they were when he was first a defender (and certainly better than those Wild teams).

Still, it seems Burns’ value has never been higher. He just signed a fat contract and was named third star of the week a season after being a Vezina finalist and an all-star. Something else fun to look at? Where his shots come from now vs. where they came from during his first stint as a forward. Check it out.

Let’s start with the obvious: Yes, the sample size on the top is much larger and that affects the density shown. Regardless, Burns takes far more shots inside the “scoring area” (the home plate shape between and below the faceoff dots) now than he did in his first go around as a defender.

You can probably picture a lot of these shots. The picture on this article provides an example of it: Burns drops down to one knee to receive a pass from Joe Thornton while on the power play and blasts a puck by a goaltender who can only sigh as he pulls the puck out of his net. It’s a play that Burns makes look easy. It’s not — all you need to know is that he’s the only guy in the NHL doing it.

San Jose’s offense hasn’t acquitted itself all that well this season and while I’m confident it’ll come around, there’s never been a moment available to worry about Brent Burns. He keeps scoring and scoring and ... well, you get the idea. He’s very good and he’s just getting better as time goes on. That’s good news for the Sharks and for anyone who likes watching the Wookiee play hockey. So, everyone.