Brent Burns scored his 19th goal on Wednesday to continue a historic scoring pace in San Jose’s 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings. The goal moved Burns’ points per game up to 1.02, good enough for fifth in the NHL, right behind Nikita Kucherov, and well above Victor Hedman’s 0.86 per game as the second-highest scoring defender.
Burns’ scoring isn’t just good for a defender this year, it’s good for a defender going back for a very long time. Among defenders with at least 40 games played, only Mike Green’s 2008-09 season is better since 2000. Burns’ current pace puts him at 15th among defenders since 1990, which is no small feat.
He doesn’t just bring points to the table, either. Burns has scored more this year, obviously, but he’s also improved his possession game. Take a look at the chart below from hockeyviz.com to see what I mean.
The only other player on this list even near Burns is Drew Doughty. In a hockey sense, that’s not bad company to be with. Burns saw lots of time against Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin and absolutely roasted them in terms of possession, much like he did everyone else in 5v5 play on Wednesday night. The only players who even gave him a challenge made up the Kings’ top defensive pairing. (From HockeyViz)
I went on the Jewels From the Crown podcast last night and talked about Burns this season vs. last season. He’s (obviously) been even better offensively this year, but I’ve seen an even bigger improvement in his defensive game. Burns makes fewer high-profile mistakes and relies on Paul Martin less as a security blanket when pinching in the offensive zone.
Last year the Norris nomination was almost surprising; this year it looks like a no-brainer. Given how well he’s playing on both sides of the ice, the Hart speculation doesn’t sound ludicrous either. Burns still has a ways to go to catch up to Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid in terms of scoring (1.32 and 1.15 per game, respectively) but given his position, he’ll at least have some narrative juice on his side.
It doesn’t hurt that Burns can do stuff like this:
The shot takes a deflection, but how many players in the league can get that much mustard on a shot with such little space to work with? Not many! This whole sequence is worked beautifully by San Jose, but it doesn’t end up in the net without a guy like Burns at the point who can whip a rocket of a shot out with no space to work with.
You don’t have to let the Wookiee win — he can do it all by himself. That’s what we love about him.