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San Jose Sharks Brent Burns (88) carries the puck against New York Rangers Dan Girardi (5) in the first period at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013. (Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group)

ST. LOUIS -- Brent Burns, the Sharks defenseman-turned-forward who has cultivated a following with his uncultivated mane and free-range facial hair, needs only two words to describe his mission on the ice: "Create chaos."

He's been good at that. And out of that chaos, Burns has evolved into an offensive force.

Picking up where he left off last season after coach Todd McLellan decided the best way to help his struggling team and player was to change his position, Burns has three goals and three assists in five games. And as the Sharks were preparing to face the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night in a matchup of two of the NHL's three remaining teams with a perfect record, Burns was sporting a plus-9 rating that topped the NHL.

Add that to his 20 points in 23 games at forward last season, and it's safe to include the one-time All-Star defenseman among the NHL's top power forwards these days. And none of them plays the game with quite the same abandon.

Even linemate Joe Thornton acknowledges he isn't always sure where Burns is going to show up on the ice, but he has no intent of trying to rein him in.

"Not at all," the Sharks captain said. "As soon as he climbs off the bench, it's full blast. You don't want to tell somebody like that to slow down, because it's just so much fun to watch."

Burns is not one for deep conversation about his new position, his old one or the change.


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Ask him, for example, if his new position better matches his personality, he'll acknowledge, "Yeah, it could." But he quickly adds, "I can have fun playing both" -- almost as if to treat the transformation as no big deal.

Burns isn't the first NHL player to switch from defense to forward, but you have to go back to the 1950s to find an example that was more high profile. Red Kelly, a Norris Trophy-winning defenseman with the Detroit Red Wings, later found success as a center with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Sharks paid a substantial price to acquire Burns from the Minnesota Wild at the 2011 draft, giving up Devin Setoguchi, prospect Charlie Coyle and a first-round draft pick for Burns and Minnesota's second-round selection.

At the time, general manager Doug Wilson did talk about Burns as a hybrid, the stud defenseman with offensive pop. Before Burns played his first game as a Shark, Wilson signed him to a long-term contract extension that will pay Burns $5.76 million per year through the end of the 2016-17 season.

But Burns had trouble adjusting to San Jose's style his first year with the team and was hampered by injuries the second.

In Burns' few games on defense last season, he looked tentative at times. And by March 12, with the Sharks having lost 13 of 17 since a 7-0 start, McLellan was ready for the experiment to begin.

The move was more calculated than it might have appeared. Justin Braun and Matt Irwin had shown they were ready to become full-time NHL defensemen; Burns was originally drafted as a forward, and it was McLellan who had helped convert him to defense in the minors.

The Sharks have made it clear they still value Burns on the blue line and have left the door open for him to return there if circumstances change. But they also will tell you that a power forward of Burns' ability is about as rare as the top defenseman for which they were originally shopping.

"I don't know how you defend against him, because he doesn't know what he's doing, so how do they know?" Wilson said in June.

Right now it's hard to imagine Burns as anything but a right wing. Burns' 26 points since the switch ties him with Logan Couture for the team lead in scoring. San Jose's record in that stretch is 19-9-1, including the 5-0 start this season.

Like Thornton, McLellan doesn't seem inclined to alter Burns' helter-skelter style of play as long as he meets his basic responsibilities.

"We don't want to over-harness Brent Burns," the coach said before likening the right wing to an artist: "For the most part, we want him to grab the brush and paint."

For more on the Sharks, see David Pollak's Working the Corners blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/sharks. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PollakOnSharks.

Tuesday's game

Sharks (5-0-0) at St. Louis (4-0-0), 5 p.m. NBCSN