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SAN JOSE -– Although Brent Burns lined up as a defenseman for the first day of training camp and every indication from team brass this offseason is that the move is permanent, some Sharks players said they wouldn’t be surprised if Burns ended up as a forward again at some point.
“I think there might be room for him to move back up to forward,” Patrick Marleau said. “I think we’ve got a lot of young [defensemen] here. He’s a great player. I think he can score 30 or 40 goals as a forward, as well. He’s very versatile. If the coaching staff and management think they can move him back up to forward, I think that would be great. If he stays back on D, he’s going to be great back there, too.”
Joe Thornton said: “If we need a goal later on in games I’m sure you’re probably going to see him up front a little bit. He can do it all.”
Head coach Todd McLellan downplayed that notion, though, saying Burns to the blue line is “a commitment right now.”
“Brent was acquired to provide us with a long-term, quarterback offensive defenseman. He’s an NHL all-star defenseman and he’s earned the right to be there in those types of situations. Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart moved on. It created a hole, and Burnzie’s natural position is back there, and we’re going to play him there. We think he’s very capable of being one of the top defensemen in the league.”
In his first full NHL season up front, Burns pumped in 22 goals and had 46 points in 69 games playing primarily with Thornton. He was second on the Sharks with 145 hits, forechecking with a reckless abandon and unleashing a deadly shot when he was on his game. Conversely, he went 19 games without a goal from January until March, sandwiched around the Olympic break.
Burns was originally acquired from Minnesota to take over one day for Boyle, who signed with the New York Rangers as a free agent in the offseason. He had sports hernia surgery before the shortened 2013 season, and found success when moving up front late in the year.
General manager Doug Wilson has called him the Sharks’ version of 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, in that he’s a multi-tool player.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if they moved him back to forward,” Marleau said. “He can play any position. That says a lot about him, but I think that’s a great tool for this organization to use, wherever they need to fill a hole.”