Burns due for breakout

JASON HILLS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

The Edmonton Oil Kings know they have a potential stud in Michael Burns.

They've seen what he's capable of. He showed it during his six-game audition last season, and he showed it during the preseason.

But so far this regular season, the 17-year-old has fallen on hard times.

"He's got to learn how to prepare every night, and how to play at this level with the intensity and the focus that it takes," said head coach Steve Pleau.

"He's got a real good package to work with, he's a smart player with good hand skills. He's big, he's done a lot of good things, but it's just a case of a 17-year-old learning the ropes in this league."

Burns looked like he was headed for a big role this season after recording three assists in six flawless games for the Oil Kings last year.

There was talk he could jump into a top-six role with the club after starting the season on a line with Tomas Vincour and Jeff Lee, but he's been a healthy scratch the past two games.

He's recorded just one assist in nine outings.

"He was a natural fit to go in to that spot, and he did a good job," said Pleau. "Eventually I think that's where he'll be. Whether it's next year, or the end of this year. He's a top-two line guy, and it's good for him to know he can do that at this level.

"We still have lots of confidence in him. Lots of 17-year-olds go through tough stretches like this. We know (the tools) are there, it's just a matter of getting it out of him consistently"

Burns, a local product, enjoyed a breakout season with the K of C Pats midget AAA program in 2007-08. He finished seventh in the Alberta Midget Hockey Hockey League's scoring race with 18 goals and 49 points in 31 games.

He also showed some grit by racking up 111 penalty minutes.

"I'm a big guy (six-foot-one, 184 lbs.) and I need to throw my weight around if things aren't going for me offensively," Burns said yesterday after a 45-minute team meeting.

"I'm not happy with the way I've performed so far, and it's reflected in how much ice time I've been getting. The coaching staff expects more out of me and I expect more out of myself.

"I got a taste of it last year in terms of what it's like to play in this league, but not to this extent. I'm making mistakes, but I just have to learn from them."

Burns recorded his only point in the season-opening 5-1 loss to the Medicine Hat Tigers.

Pleau was still working on his lineup for tonight's game against the visiting Prince George Cougars, but he's looking at inserting Burns back into the lineup.

"The scoring hasn't been there for him, but he's got to get in and find a way to contribute and eventually he'll get himself out of this funk," said Pleau.

Burns is chomping at the chance to return to active duty. While he's put pressure on himself to be an offensive contributor, he'll settle for any role right now, rather than sitting in the press box.

"I feel I can be a top-two line guy, but you have to be confident in your own abilities.

"Confidence is a big thing and I'm struggling with it right now," said Burns.

"I can't expect it to just happen. Luckily, it's early... there is a lot of season left, and I've just got to maintain my focus and turn this around."


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