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All-star Buff finds home on D

'I'm in no hurry to get him out of there by any means,' Maurice says

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/1/2015 (1494 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It's more than rare for a player to earn an NHL all-star game invitation for five weeks of work.

It says something about what Dustin Byfuglien has done for the Winnipeg Jets, who switched the big man from wing back to defence on Dec. 5.

The all-star game invite was issued just more than a week ago, and in the ensuing time, Byfuglien more than validated the choice, becoming the NHL's first star of the week as he helped the Jets through a difficult schedule.

Byfuglien had six points in four games last week and the Jets are 5-0-1 in their last six as they continue to make progress in the Western Conference standings.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/1/2015 (1494 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It's more than rare for a player to earn an NHL all-star game invitation for five weeks of work.

It says something about what Dustin Byfuglien has done for the Winnipeg Jets, who switched the big man from wing back to defence on Dec. 5.

Byfuglien was breaking in a new pair of skates during practice Tuesday afternoon at the MTS Iceplex.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Byfuglien was breaking in a new pair of skates during practice Tuesday afternoon at the MTS Iceplex.

The all-star game invite was issued just more than a week ago, and in the ensuing time, Byfuglien more than validated the choice, becoming the NHL's first star of the week as he helped the Jets through a difficult schedule.

Byfuglien had six points in four games last week and the Jets are 5-0-1 in their last six as they continue to make progress in the Western Conference standings.

"I guess it's a good thing," Byfuglien said Tuesday about being recognized by the league for his excellent play last week. "I didn't find out until this morning. It's an honour. Our team's been playing pretty good hockey and I wouldn't have done it without my teammates."

Byfuglien heads to Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday to represent the Jets during the weekend league festivities, the third time he's been selected to participate in the all-star weekend.

"Any time, doesn't matter if it's 13 or 14 (times), it means a lot and it means you're doing the right things," he said. "You're opening eyes. It's an honour. It's nice to have good teammates. And the team's playing well and it makes it even better."

Opening eyes would be underselling his contributions since the injury crisis hit the Jets starting in late November, leading to the absence of five regulars from their blue-line.

Jets coach Paul Maurice was asked Tuesday if Byfuglien has exceeded expectations in that regard.

"I wonder if that's fair," the coach said. "There's never been a doubt he's a special player. He really can really do whatever he sets his mind to do. But I still think we have to look at this as a bigger block of time because things change on the blue-line. If we stay healthy there's going to be a big adjustment for our whole D coming up in terms of minutes played."

Within the framework of the Jets' new style of defence-first hockey, it sounds a little like Byfuglien is on a short-ish leash. And it also sounds like he's a defenceman for the foreseeable future.

"I'm in no hurry to get him out of there by any means," Maurice said. "He's a defenceman right now and he's one of the best in the league right now, so there's no need to change that."

Byfuglien readily admits he's a better defenceman this time around.

"Yeah. There's absolutely no doubt about it," he said. "But as a team, we've changed our game so much. The way we play and the way we played back then, it's like totally different and we feed off each other and you can make plays."

Byfuglien said this new way suits him: "As long as we don't get away from it, you don't get exposed so much.

"I definitely enjoy being back there. It's exciting for me."

Byfuglien confirmed Maurice is keeping him mindful of the Jets' overall strategy to keep the puck out of their own net, above all.

"Little things," Byfuglien said about what he's being told by the coach. "Just doing what I do and not get out of the game plan. Just stick with it and everything will just come."

At the moment, the Jets have two short-term goals.

One is to not be overly satisfied with their recent success and the fact they more than survived a daunting stretch of schedule. There still remains one difficult assignment, tonight, before the all-star break.

"It's a tough stretch right there, the travel, everything," Byfuglien said of the recent seven games in 11 days, each with travel. "We came a long ways in here. That's been a big thing. I've been through it before and we found a way. We stuck together. We're doing the right things and it's fun to be a part of that."

Now, with Jacob Trouba's imminent return and Byfuglien going from nowhere on the Jets' blue-line depth chart to the de facto No. 1 defenceman, there's a crowd.

"It's going to make it hard for everyone to not take a night off," he said. "If (you do) you're not going to get your ice time. We're going to have to work hard for each other and just keep working."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Making the transition

2014-15 GP G A +/-
Winger Buff 26
5
6
-1
Blue-line Buff 21
7
13
+7

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History

Updated on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 at 7:06 AM CST: Replaces photo, fixes table

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