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Brent Burns: The X-Factor

The 38-year old veteran blueliner has been everything the Carolina Hurricanes could have asked for and more.

New York Islanders v Carolina Hurricanes - Game One Photo by Jaylynn Nash/Getty Images

Undisputedly elite talent is something that the Carolina Hurricanes haven’t had too often throughout their history.

Primarily, the Hurricanes are a team by committee. One with a great talent pool, but one where those game breaking difference makers have been a bit on the rarer side.

So when a player like Brent Burns hit the market, the Canes’ front office pounced, because even if he’s not quite the same level of player he was in his prime, Burns is still an elite level talent.

There were valid worries thrown about on what the veteran could still bring, but in one season, he’s silenced any doubters.

Burns set the Canes’ team record for points by a defenseman (62) and tied the team record for goals by a defenseman (18). He averaged over 23 minutes per game at 38 and plays in all situations for Carolina including PP1 and PK2.

Burns is that elite talent that Carolina has sought for so long and already in round one of these playoffs, he’s proving the front office, the one that circled his name and went out and got him, right.

“I don’t know where we’d be without him,” said coach Rod Brind’Amour on Burns’ impact. “Our ‘D’ are real special back there with the amount of pressure we put on them to perform in every aspect of the game and this guy has been better than advertised. It’s been a real pleasure to have him around and be with our group.”

The three-time All Star and former Norris Trophy winner is also no stranger to the postseason.

The veteran blueliner appeared in 95 postseason games before joining the Hurricanes, registering 20 goals and 62 points in those games.

During his tenure as a San Jose Shark, Burns set the franchises’ postseason goals, assists and points records and was a point-per-game player during the Sharks’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016.

He’s been so close to hockey’s ultimate prize, and perhaps that’s what keeps him in form today.

That desire to make it to the end.

That and being back in the postseason for the first time since 2019.

“It’s an exciting time,” Burns said. “You feel it around the city and obviously it’s something that every team builds on from the start of training camp. It’s a fun time.”

In his four postseason games with Carolina, Burns has been by far one of the Canes’ best players.

He has been on the ice for 10 of Carolina’s 12 total goals in the series and the defenseman controls an even strength CF of 54.79%. His five points and 11 shots on goal also lead the team.

“That’s what we’ve seen all year,” Brind’Amour said on Burns’ following his Game 1 performance. “He’s elite. An elite player and you can see it out there. Very impactful, that’s for sure.”

One of the biggest factors has been how Burns gets his shots on net. The Islanders do a tremendous job of taking away both passing and shooting lanes and blocking shots, but Burns is one of the best in the NHL at getting the puck from high to low.

In Game 1, led the Hurricanes to victory, picking up the primary assists on each of the team’s two goals, by getting those pucks down low and in Game 2, Burns made the plays to facilitate the comeback, helping move the puck for the game-tying goal and then reloading the Hurricanes into the offensive zone for the overtime game winner.

It was the same story in Game 4, as he created the shot that led to Jarvis’ power play goal for Carolina’s early lead.

“No matter how many guys you throw in there, Burns still finds ways to get pucks through,” Brind’Amour said. “That’s one of his skillsets for sure.”

His shooting ability and vision has allowed Carolina to apply the pressure on the power play and is the main reason why the unit has gone 5-for-19 (26.3%).

Burns has also been munching big minutes for the Hurricanes at every strength this postseason, having more ice time than any other skater, and he looks like he can keep same intensity going every game.

“He looks like that every game,” Brind’Amour said on Burns’ playoff energy. “I don’t see much difference in his approach and how he plays [from the regular season].”

(In case anyone forgot, Burns came in second place in the preseason physical training test that the Hurricanes run).

It’s not just been on the ice that Burns’ impact has been felt either. He’s intertwined himself into the locker room culture that the Hurricanes have cultivated and appears as if he’s been a part of the team for years.

“Everyone knows that he’s such a great guy,” said Jesperi Kotkaniemi. “Has that energy everyday on and off the ice. Just a great role model for the younger guys and it’s been pretty impressive how he’s playing and handling himself. Playing with that massive body out there. Lot of young guys can learn from that.”

“The funny thing is with all the tackling and fighting is that he starts it,” Kotkaniemi said. “He’s like a really old child I feel like. He’s kind of like one of us, so it’s great that he has that side to him. Just an unbelievable guy to be around.”

The biggest thing that Rod Brind’Amour has always harped on is the importance of family. The team is made up of guys who understand that family always comes first and Burns brings that same close familial bond.

He’s like a father to the younger players and you can constantly see his son, Jagger, around the rink and the team, interacting with Burns’ teammates and coaches (Jagger also plays on a rec league team with Brooks Brind’Amour and Jade Williams the children of Rod Brind’Amour and Justin Williams).

He looks like a lifelong Hurricane and perhaps that’s something that’s helped that elite talent shine; the comfort of being on a team that just gets it when it comes to culture.

“It’s just been great,” Burns said on being in Carolina. “Just from everything, the fresh start to the fresh energy. It’s been really good. There hasn’t been anything that hasn’t been fun to go through.”

And so while the Canes’ forward group takes blow after blow, it’s elite talent like Brent Burns that has helped push them to the brink of advancement.