SAN JOSE — Most of the talk during Day 1 of Sharks training camp Friday seemed focused on Joe Thornton being stripped of his captaincy and who might replace him — surely an uncomfortable topic for Thornton, his teammates, and the coaches.
Day 2 seemed more relaxed and like a typical training camp atmosphere, with the attention on youngsters looking to make the team and Brent Burns’ return to defenseman from forward.
The team’s decision to change Burns’ position yet again was surprising, considering that the 29-year-old posted career-highs in goals (22) and points (48) last season playing on Thornton’s wing in his first full year as a forward. Burns, who made the All-Star team as a defenseman in 2011, was converted to forward in the middle of the 2012-2013 season.
Photos by Trevor Will/SFBay
But Burns is taking it all in stride, feeling confident and ready to take on the challenge. After joking that it is “pretty easy” to play defense in the NHL, Burns admitted after an intra-squad scrimmage on Saturday that there will be an adjustment period, and that he will miss playing alongside Thornton:
“When it comes to asking me what I want, it’s hard. I feel confident getting 30 goals playing forward, but I also love the challenge of playing defense and playing more than 20 minutes a game. I love being on the ice more. You control the game more as a defenseman than you can as a forward. But playing with a guy like Joe, it’s hard to pass up.”
Indeed, Burns will go from scoring off of Thornton’s precise passes to having to set up opportunities on the rush and power play, presumably taking over the role of Dan Boyle, who was traded earlier this offseason.
Burns still has one of the hardest shots on the team and offensive prowess that should give him double-digit goals no matter what position he plays. But again, playing as a forward next to Thornton is a far cry from playing as a defenseman next to Scott Hannan, with whom he is being paired thus far.
Overhearing the discussion in an adjacent locker about the difference between he and Thornton, Hannan, known as a stay-at-home defenseman, joked:
“[We’re] pretty much the same, right?”
Training camp and exhibition games are useful for players like Burns to adapt to a new position, and they are also opportunities for younger players to impress and make an NHL team. This year is no exception for the Sharks, who have a number of training camp invitees vying for roster spots.
The fiercest competition is at defense, where there is likely one open spot on the roster. Coach Todd McLellan mentioned four names in particular — Mirco Mueller, Matt Tennyson, Taylor Doherty, and Taylor Fedun — being considered to make the club.
Mueller, the Sharks’ first round draft pick in 2013, recorded an assist during the intra-squad scrimmage. After an injury forced him to miss much of last year’s camp, Mueller, considered the Sharks’ top prospect, is healthy this time around and noticed the difference between the minors and the big club immediately:
“You get way less time than in other leagues. You get the puck real quick and you have to move it really quick. There are bigger bodies too, so you have to be strong on your stick.”
Tennyson, who spent last season in Worcester, also had a strong showing during the scrimmage, scoring a goal on a one-time slap shot from the point. McLellan said that Tennyson is in the same situation as Mueller:
“He has a great opportunity to grasp a job and go with it.”
For forwards, the name that pops out is Tye McGinn, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound younger brother of former Sharks’ forward Jamie McGinn.
McGinn was traded to the Sharks from the Flyers for a draft pick earlier this offseason, and is trying to earn a spot on the team as a winger. He scored a goal on a net-mouth scramble during the scrimmage.
McGinn, who is physical and scrappy like Raffi Torres, was asked if he could fill in the role vacated by Torres, who will likely miss a significant portion of the season due to knee surgery:
“It’s never good losing a good player like that. If there’s an opportunity for other players, it’s a role that I would like to play.”