WINNIPEG – He’s certainly not what you would call reed thin but a trimmer Dustin Byfuglien says he’s ready to do his part to make the Winnipeg Jets a playoff team.
The big blue-liner is a man of few words and shrugged off any suggestion he had worked a lot harder to get in shape.
“I was on the ice a little bit more, doing what I had to do to come to camp ready to go,” he said as Jets training camp opened this week.
“When I was on the ice I just did a little bit more skating … working on the edges and the stick handling and puck movement, just a little bit more than I used to do.”
At six foot five and a listed weight of 265 pounds, Byfuglien has a booming shot and is the kind of impact player that can make or break the team’s playoff hopes. He’s part of a core group of players the Jets have kept together as they prepare for a full season in a new division and a new conference.
Byfuglien believes a strong foundation is key for the team to succeed.
“It’s big, I mean you look at Chicago,`he said. “They’ve kept their core together for a long time.”
Byfuglien has experience in the Windy City, winning a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010.
He was drafted by Chicago in 2003 and was dealt to the Atlanta Thrashers in June 2010, the year before they moved to Winnipeg.
Byfuglien was a defenceman when drafted but the Blackhawks tried to turn him into a forward. He moved back to defence with the Thrashers and has spent most of his time with the Jets in that role.
In 2011-12, he was the second highest-scoring defenceman in the NHL with 53 points in just 66 games. Last season he came in at No. 11 on the list with 28 points in 43 games.
He was also one of four Jets invited to the U.S. Olympic hockey orientation camp this year in advance of the Sochi Olympics.
Coach Claude Noel said he`d like to see a little more consistency from Byfuglien, although he adds that he’s not the only player who needs to work on that aspect of the game.
Byfuglien said he understands and that he’s ready to work hard to be at his best in every game.
“Same as every year,“ he said. “Try to be at the top. Try to be the best player I can be and try to take over games.”
Few players have the ability to take control of the play the way Byfuglien can. He can use his size to great advantage and has the versatility and scoring touch to make a big difference.
“When he’s on top of his game he’s one of the best in the league,” said fellow defenceman Zach Bogosian. “He’s a very special player.”
Last year there was the pre-season distraction of an impaired boating charge in his home state of Minnesota on top of an abbreviated camp and lockout-shortened season.
Byfuglien said it’s nice not to have any distractions this season.
“Absolutely. Things happen and you’ve got to deal with it.”
He added that there is really only one formula for success this season if the Jets want to make the playoffs—something the franchise managed only once in 2007 in Atlanta.
“All 20 guys playing every night and battling and knowing what’s at stake and knowing that all we want to do is make that first playoff round, and it all sets itself up from there.”