Brandon Burlon just completed his first season as a professional with Albany in 2011-12. While it didn't go as smoothly as one hoped, he still could turn out to be a solid defender. That led to his #14 spot on our Top 25 Devils Under 25 List.
The term "solid" is almost a cliche in describing some players. It's more convenient to write than saying "he's good but not great." It's nicer sounding than saying "he does a good job, but he's not a special." At best, it's a player who isn't flashy or dominant but is reliable at what they do night-in and night-out. At worst, it's a player who's just above average; someone you don't mind having on the team but you wouldn't want an entire roster of those kinds of players. Yet, for lack of a better word, that may be the ceiling of the #14 player on our Top 25 Devils Under 25 list: Brandon Burlon.
#14 - Brandon Burlon - Height: 6'0" - Weight: 192 lbs. - Age: 22 - 2012-13 Team: Albany (AHL)
Coming out of the OPJHL, Burlon committed to Michigan and performed well for the Wolverines for three years. He was named to the CHAA All-Rookie team in 2008-09 and played in the top four in subsequent seasons. Burlon did well enough to earn an entry level contract after his junior year and so he made the jump to the pro game. In terms of tools, Burlon has some positive skills. As both profiles from Hockey's Future and Corey Pronman at Hockey Prospectus state, Burlon is a good skater and can play a mobile game. He's good at making the first pass out of his end as well as making effective decisions in his own end.
As good as that is, Burlon isn't projected to be a top-end defenseman. While he can make a good pass and he can skate well, he's not an offensive player. As you can tell by his stats from Elite Prospects, Burlon was never was a prolific producer. He wasn't in Junior A, he wasn't at Michigan, and he isn't at Albany. As a defenseman, he's not going to fill any offensive needs. That's fine in general, but that does limit his potential in New Jersey since the team really could use an offensive defenseman. In terms of defending, while he did well enough to get signed out of college, he did struggle in his first few months of pro hockey. The profiles by HF ("...a multi-purpose defenseman who doesn’t necessarily have as many elite qualities...but he does a little bit of everything well.) and Pronman ("...need to play within his limits in the NHL.") further confirm that there's nothing extraordinary about Burlon's game. For lack of a better word, he'll be "solid" at best.
HF comes right out and suggests he's similar to Andy Greene. I don't disagree with that similarity. Both defensemen aren't big or specifically offensive or defensive defensemen. However, Greene was considerably more dominant in college. He also came into the system a little older than Burlon and actually jumped to the NHL in his first pro season. He's even been more productive too. Greene has become a pretty good player in his own end and he's getting paid as such. Whether Burlon will ever get that far is an open question. Maybe he's the poor man's Greene?
Again, there's nothing wrong with having a potential ceiling of, say, a #4/#5 defenseman at the NHL level. However, like with defensive/two-way forwards, they're not going command as much excitement or optimism. A guy like Burlon could be useful if he gets there. That's the problem for Burlon, and why he's down in the middle of our list instead of being any higher. If he gets to Newark, it'll likely be as a depth defenseman. What also didn't help him in our votes was his rookie season in Albany. It wasn't particularly surprising that a rookie season was filled with ups and downs. Yet, consistency is paramount for a defenseman, especially for one who isn't going to be a producer or a strong stopper. That will come with experience, Burlon didn't do anything last season that made us think he's going to be ready for the next level. He's still a work-in-progress in that sense.
He's got a lot of work to do to keep competing with the other defenders in the system that want to make it to the next level. In terms of the system of prospects, Burlon is behind a few players. He's 22 and given that defensemen can take a little longer to develop, he's got some time to grow. However, that's going to be difficult when other defenders are also trying to establish themselves. Since he isn't a prolific scorer, a physical beast, or a stud defender, Burlon has to keep improving at his overall game to keep pace with the pack. The current NHL lockout has made that more difficult. In addition to competing with Urbom, Gelinas (now injured but he'll be back), Corrente, and Leach for minutes, Larsson is now on the blueline and commanding a top spot. If that wasn't enough, Albany signed an additional defender out of their training camp. Burlon's chances of securing a top-four spot with the A-Devs have taken a hit.
If he can get that spot despite the additional personnel, then that speaks well of Burlon's growth and keeps his future alive. Even that window is limited. as there are other defenders in the system who will be hitting the pro level in a few years. Burlon's time to shine has to come sooner rather than later. Even if he does shine and eventually gets a shot in Newark, he'll only be a "solid" defender at most. It's not like he'll be the next Andy Greene, he may just play somewhat like him. However, that's all in the prospective future. Burlon has to be solid first for Albany in 2012-13, even if the opportunities for significant minutes may be limited.
We thought well enough of him to rank him around the middle but nothing more than that for those reasons. Would you agree that #14 is about the right spot for Brandon Burlon? What do you think he needs to do at Albany in this season to improve his stock in the system? Do you think he'll ever make it to the next level in New Jersey? Do you think he'll at least be solid in Albany this season? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Brandon Burlon in the comments. Thank you for reading.