A spectacular skater with a fantastic intellect for the game, Burns really benefited from expansion in 1967. Though he had spent previous several seasons playing (and coaching!) in San Francisco of the Western League, he had plenty of Original Six experience, too.
Burns stepped right into the NHL after 2 seasons of senior hockey in Whitby, Ontario. He never apprenticed in the minors at all, as the Detroit Red Wings found a home for him, playing in all 70 games. He was quite the story that year, as he became the first Red Wings player who was actually born in Detroit! But Burns and his family moved to Toronto when he was still a youngster. He grew up as a Maple Leafs fan.
After that rookie NHL season in 1958-59, Burns moved on to Boston where he played with the Bruins for four more complete seasons. He never scored more than 15 goals or 41 points in a season, but was a valuable if underrated third line role player.
The Bruins sent him to their WHL farm team in San Francisco to play but also coach. He loved playing in San Francisco and always believed the NHL should have based the expansion Seals franchise in SF instead of Oakland.
Nonetheless, when the Seals did arrive on the NHL scene in 1967, Burns reappeared as well. It lasted two long seasons. The team was not very good, yet Burns was devastated when he learned he would have to leave the Bay Area to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins thanks to an intra-league draft prior to the 1968-69 season.
Burns would only play one season with the Pens, enjoying his best offensive season with 51 points. Then he joined the Minnesota North Stars for four seasons. In his first season in Minny he actually played and coached, making him the last man in NHL history to play and coach the team at the same time.