Ontario Reign: Previewing Brayden Burke’s 2021-22 Season
2020 AHL All-Star Brayden Burke has been a top playmaker at every level so far. The 24-year-old will get a fresh start with the Ontario Reign.
One player that Ontario Reign fans will be happy that the LA Kings acquired this summer is forward Brayden Burke.
Over the past two seasons, Burke has 17 points in 13 games against the Reign, with 12 points coming via assists.
The Kings acquired Burke from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Cole Hults and Boko Imama. The Edmonton, Alberta native inked a one-year deal with LA shortly after that.
Burke has 64 assists (99 points) in 146 games in his three-year AHL career with the Tucson Roadrunners in his three-year AHL career. In the last two seasons, he’s been among the league’s better playmakers in that time (chart via QuantHockey):
Burke’s 31 assists and 52 points in 51 games helped earn him All-Star honors in the 2019-20 season.
That said, he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to get a look at the NHL level. Still young enough, at 24 years old, Burke will get a fresh look in the Kings organization with hopes of finally getting that call. The 5-foot-10 forward spent parts of four seasons in the WHL, dating back to the 2014-15 season with the Lethbridge Hurricanes (note: he did play three games with the Red Deer Rebels before this).
In the 2015-16 campaign, his first full season with Lethbridge, Burke had 82 assists and 109 points in 72 games. The 109 points were good enough for third in the league, and 82 assists tied him for the league lead. The success continued in 2016-17 as he combined for 19-63-84 in 61 games between the Hurricanes and Moose Jaw Warriors. After another 82 assist campaign (and 113 points in 61 games) in 2017-18, he’d firmly established himself as one of the top scorers in junior hockey.
Elite Prospects Director of NA Scouting Mitchell Brown (@MitchLBrown) has done work on Scoring Chance Contributions for draft prospects nearing their draft year. At the time, Burke graded out exceptionally well:
Scoring chance contributions. Top #2018NHLDraft prospect Filip Zadina one of the most impressive again. Brayden Burke (ARI – FA) is unbelievable playmaker. A certain #Habs prospect is doing quite well, too (Will Bitten). pic.twitter.com/GdvFcYz3It— Mitchell Brown (@MitchLBrown) March 13, 2018
Despite his production at the junior level and how strong he was at creating chances, Burke went undrafted. You’d imagine that it was his size that turned NHL GMs off – he checked in at 5-foot-10 and just 165 pounds in his draft year.
His play didn’t exactly suffer after not being drafted. Those 113 points in 61 games in his final junior year caught the attention of the Coyotes’ organization, who signed him to a three-year entry-level contract in March of 2018. He joined the Roadrunners during the AHL playoffs that year – playing in two games – before beginning his full pro-career in the 2018-19 season.
Burke had a solid rookie pro season in Tucson, picking up 20 assists and 33 points in 67 games. He followed that up with an All-Star season in 2019-20, scoring 21-31-52 in 51 games.
So if we’re keeping track, he lit up the WHL, he’s been productive in the AHL – including an All-Star appearance in his sophomore season, and he’s clearly got some wheels. He participated in the Fastest Skater competition in that 2020 AHL All-Star Game:
Yet, still no NHL game action. There was some buzz that his strong first two AHL seasons could get him an NHL look during 2020-21. And, perhaps, that could have happened in a full season. But this was also the first time where his production took a bit of a dip. He managed just one goal and 14 points in 28 games. Out of the ordinary, given his career to date. Through the first 16 games of that season, his “perplexing” start was not going unnoticed:
“Burke has been a near non-factor offensively. His six assists in 12 appearances are plenty respectable, but he’s yet to score a goal. What’s more, Burke has only taken eight shots on goal. Eighteen Roadrunners have shot the puck more than Burke this season, a year after he was one of the top league’s top 25 goal scorers.”
He did end the season with a goal and seven assists in the final 12 games, which is more in line with how he’d performed in the earlier part of his career. And, remember, it’s during a very bizarre 2020-21 pandemic-affected season. It’s worth noting that he was chosen to be in the bubble for the Coyotes playoff series in 2020.
“Burke was definitely one of the more intriguing Coyotes prospects,” Five For Howling’s Carl Pavlock told me. “He had a great season with the Roadrunners and was in quarantine if the Coyotes needed a call-up during the 2020 playoffs.”
Also, I don’t want to make it seem like he’s allergic to scoring goals. He had seasons of 27 and 31 goals in the WHL and already has a 21-goal season under his belt in the AHL. A number of the goals here are goal-scorers goals:
Where does that leave us heading into 2021-22? I hope you’re not actually looking for an answer to that question because I don’t have one. If the right players make the NHL roster out of camp, would it surprise me to see Burke get top-six minutes? Perhaps? I won’t say I’m expecting that; there are just too many players on the Kings depth chart ahead of him. But he has a track record of production at every level.
“Everything looked to be going well, but Burke struggled last season,” Pavlock added. “He wasn’t the only one on the Roadrunners who struggled last season, though, and it would not surprise me at all if he rebounded next season.”
Did the Kings bringing in the likes of Burke and reigning AHL MVP TJ Tynan tip their cards a little bit? This is a very crowded roster – at both the NHL and AHL levels. Perhaps bringing in two established AHL scorers is a sign that they don’t expect some of the top prospects to spend much time with the Reign?
Pure speculation, but Burke is clearly an offensive upgrade of the forward who went the other way in the trade in Imama. I’m penciling him in for the third line with the Ontario Reign, but someone who could very well see some power-play time if he continues to produce at a high level.
Time will tell where he slots in, but given the number of players in competition for spots, the majority of the players the Kings have drafted themselves and see as part of the future leads me to believe Burke can settle into a third-line role – maybe even fourth – but with the opportunity to move up as call ups and injuries occur.
One thing is for certain; whichever line he plays on, he certainly adds some veteran AHL depth and production to the Reign lineup.