Here comes Byfuglien
For those of you who missed it, there were a couple of players who made their NHL debuts in the league's first night back from the Olympic break. And no one's was bigger than that of Dustin Byfuglien.
Byfuglien (pronounced BUF-a-lin) scored the game-winning goal for the Chicago Blackhawks over the Nashville Predators last night in his first NHL game. The Blackhawks dressed three rookie defencemen for the game, and all of them played more than 17 minutes.
The story throughout Byfuglien's career has always been his weight. Currently listed at 6 foot 3 and a little more than 240 pounds, it's the lightest the 20-year-old native of Roseau, Minn., has been in years.
As a kid, he grew up in poverty and scrambled for ways to get to the local rink on his own. Byfuglien's grades were so poor he was inelligible to play prep-school hockey and instead, travelled north of the border to the WHL at age 17. The Brandon Wheat Kings dealt him shortly thereafter to Prince George, which was when I first saw Byfuglien in action.
At this point, he was listed at 6 foot 2 and 276 pounds, but he appeared heavier. Yet, despite the obvious disadvantages his size presented, he was actually quite mobile and you could tell the kid was phenomenally gifted. With crisp passing skills and an unmatched cannon of a point shot, Byfuglien wasn't really like any player I'd seen come through the 'dub.
The Blackhawks took a flyer on him in the eighth round of the entry draft that season, and over the next two years, he put up excellent numbers in junior hockey. Last season, he had 22 goals and 58 points in just 64 games for the Cougars, making him one of the highest-scoring defencemen in the CHL.
With the Blackhawks once again in rebuilding mode and having traded away Jaroslav Spacek to the Edmonton Oilers, a spot on the roster opened up for an offensive player.
And here comes Byfuglien, 30 pounds lighter and more determined than ever.