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Maurice pleased with Byfuglien's forward progress

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Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice corrected a questioner on Thursday when asked how the Dustin Byfuglien experiment was going.

"I don't find this to be an experiment because he has such a body of work at both," Maurice said.

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Byfuglien was moved to forward for a game Jan. 11 and stayed there when Maurice took over the team on Jan. 12.

"It's not like I'm taking this as the first kick where he goes to forward," the new coach said.

"He's been a forward for a long time. I like the way he's playing. I really like the way he's into the game on the bench. He's finishing checks. He's engaged in what he's doing. He doesn't at all look like a player who's waiting for this experiment not to work and, 'I'm going back to where I want to.'

"I'm not getting any of that from him. He's put up big numbers, scored overtime goals. He's impactful in our game. I don't spend any time, really, thinking about that. He's a forward right now. Until he makes us a better team by going on defence, then he stays there right now. He's doing a really good job."

Byfuglien, on a line with centre Olli Jokinen and right-winger Devin Setoguchi most of the time, has two goals and six points in these recent nine games as a forward.

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The Jets returned to full practice mode on Thursday at the MTS Centre but were without forwards Blake Wheeler and Eric O'Dell.

Wheeler was kept off the ice for maintenance reasons and Maurice said he'll be fine and will play tonight.

O'Dell was away from the team, in Ottawa, about to become a father. The coach was unsure if he'll be back in time for tonight's affair.

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While the Canucks are the 29th and final NHL opponent to pay a regular-season visit to the MTS Centre, they haven't been completely absent since 1996.

When True North, in its early years operating the IHL's and AHL's Manitoba Moose, began staging NHL exhibition games in Winnipeg, the Canucks were participants the first three times.

Vancouver played pre-season games here in 2000, 2002 and 2003, the latter two as part of the synergy established when the Moose became the Canucks' AHL affiliate starting in 2001.

Eight NHL pre-season games were played here between 2000 and 2010.

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Jets captain Andrew Ladd said Thursday he was unaware the Canucks hadn't visited yet.

A B.C. native, Ladd certainly has Canucks memories and exposure.

"I was a big Trevor Linden fan growing up," he said Thursday. "He was probably a guy I looked up to.

"I think I met him at Stan Smyl's hockey school in Whistler one year. I was 10 years old maybe. It's always fun to meet your idols. That was cool."

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The Canucks won't have anything close to their best team on the ice tonight.

Already without suspended coach John Tortorella for one final game tonight, acting head coach Mike Sullivan told the Vancouver Sun on Thursday the team will start its five-game road trip without veteran defenceman Kevin Bieksa.

Bieksa, a former Manitoba Moose defenceman, had been bothered by a sore foot for a couple of weeks but did play Wednesday at home.

Vancouver is also without another former Moose blue-liner, Chris Tanev, who is absent because of a broken finger.

Also missing are captain Henrik Sedin (ribs) and forward Mike Santorelli (shoulder), who skated for the Jets at the end of last season. Santorelli has clicked for 10 goals and 28 points for Vancouver this season.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 31, 2014 C7

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