Brayden Burke was not drafted as an 18-year-old. His 18-year-old season (2014-15) saw him battle an early injury, get traded from Red Deer to Lethbridge, and put up 34 points in 42 games. It wasn’t awful, but for a smaller guy in a good league his numbers alone weren’t going to get him anywhere.
But his 19-year-old season was monstrous. As the Lethbridge Hurricanes’ resurgence as a WHL power became the story in Canadian junior hockey, Burke was often the catalyst for their offense. He tripled his previous offensive totals, finishing third in the entire WHL with 109 points in his first full season in the league.
This accomplishment saw him overlooked in his second NHL Draft. What the hell?
“I mean at first it was a bit
of a shock, ’cause obviously when you have as good a season as I had
you want to be drafted and all,” said Burke, in between sessions at Calgary Flames development camp. “But as a smaller guy I’ve had to deal
with a lot of controversy in my life. That was a positive that I have
been able to get through this stuff before. Pretty much right after
the draft the Flames called me and told me they really wanted me to
come to camp, and I’m excited about getting the opportunity so I just
kind of looked past it and just looked into the future.”
The development camp invite gives the Flames a bit of an audition process for Burke. Under the terms of the CBA, the Flames (or any other team) can sign Burke between now and the beginning of the WHL season in September. As someone overlooked in a draft Burke is like Nick Schneider, the Medicine Hat goalie that the Flames signed as a free agent last fall after a training camp tryout. The prospect of a contract is definitely a motivation for Burke.
“Obviously you want that to happen,” said Burke.
“That’s the goal for every player, they always want to increase and
move to the next level, but I believe that if I just play my game…
I’ve always been able to score, I’ve always been able to contribute
offense, so if I play my game and do what I can do out there
hopefully they’ll catch an eye and like what they see, and everything
kind of can just go on from there.”
For those that don’t get to see Lethbridge play too often, Burke describes himself as more of a distributor of the puck than a sniper – a fact attested to by his 82 assists last season.
“I’m definitely more of a passer,” said Burke.
“I’m definitely a pass-first guy, and then I’ll look for the shot
afterwards. Simple is definitely a big part of it. I don’t try to do
too much with the puck. I just get the puck, find the open man, and
luckily we had a lot of good scorers on my team this year who were
able to put the puck in the net when I got them the opportunities so
that helps a lot too. But definitely a guy that tries to move the
puck quick and smart.”
Burke acknowledges some similarities with current Flames prospect Andrew Mangiapane, another smaller player whose offensive output got him selected after being overlooked in the draft. But primarily, Burke is focusing on having another strong season with the Hurricanes – ideally one without an early playoff exit – and improving his game wherever he can.