Dustin Byfluglien Could Turn Into a All-Star Defenseman With Atlanta
Dustin Byfuglien displayed the unique ability to switch from defense to offense for the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2009-10 Stanley Cup. His versatility helped the Blackhawks take home Lord Stanley.
That dominance and passion he displayed made him the diamond in the rough that the Atlanta Thrashers coveted and gave up a number one draft choice and a high potential prospect for.
In the Stanley Cup playoffs, Byfuglien’s size, speed and aggressiveness were well-utilized creating constant mismatches for the opposition.
At 6’4'' and 260 pounds, defenders in the slot could not block Byfuglien out and when playing defense his size, strength and mobility not to mention his shot create another set of problems for opposing teams.
Make no mistake the skill and mental dexterity to effectively transition from a forward to defenseman is not easy to master and has not been successfully done many times in the history of the NHL.
Players like, Doug Harvey Red Kelly, JC Trembley, Pat Stapleton, Mark Howe and Larry Robinson were a few who successfully made the transition.
The position of defense is the second toughest after goaltender to master. Very often NHL defensemen have played the position since they were children.
Reading offensive configurations and mastering defensive skills such a shot blocking and body checking sometimes requires years of preparation to properly master. Still after years of playing the position defenseman have the most difficult time adjusting to the NHL.
Dustin Byfuglien gained experience as a defenseman and forward in junior hockey where his size was used to create advantages for his team.
Originally a defenseman he was converted to a right wing position to give the team a larger body near the net, an experiment that has proven successful throughout his short career in the junior ranks as well as pro hockey.
The forward excelled in his third professional season, becoming the first Rockford Ice Hog player to earn the American Hockey League's (AHL) Player of the Week award, when he scored one goal and had five assists in four games.
Byfuglien scored seven points in eight games with Rockford. After being recalled in November to the Chicago Blackhawks he never returned to Rockford.
He netted a goal in his first shift with the Blackhawks in the 2007–08 NHL season against the St.Louis Blues and notched his first career hat trick against the Phoenix Coyotes.
He finished tied for fifth on the team with 19 goals and 36 points in his third season with the team, all while making the transition to right wing.
General Manager Rick Dudley may see similarities in Byfuglien than he saw in his playing days in standout Montreal Canadian rearguard Larry Robinson.
Robinson was also converted from forward, which endowed him with exceptional puck handling and offensive skills to go with toughness to match his 6'4" frame.
Dudley may be penciling Byfuglien in on the blue line, which will strengthen the Atlanta defense and maybe give another high potential forward an opportunity to crack the Thrashers lineup.
If the Thrashers do decide to try Byfuglien on the blue line, the Thrasher may have three defensemen with all-star ability.
Bogosian, Enstrom and Byfuglien with Sopel, Oduya and a number of potential candidates to fill the open slot represent a problem the Thrashers have never had before.
Let’s look at some of the NHL players who successfully made a conversion.
Larry Robinson- Montreal Canadia
At 6'4" Larry Robinson was a imposing figure on the Montreal blueline. Not only did the opposition have to contend with his hard checks and capable defense, but they also had to deal with his offensive ability.
By necessity Robinson was asked by a junior coach to convert from a forward to defense and the rest is 'history.
Robinson helped spearhead a defense corp that was almost impossible for any other team to match up with. In the mean time Robinson won multiple Norris Trophies and Stanley Cups.
Doug Harvey - Montreal Canadians
Many still consider Harvey to be the best defenseman to ever play the game. He was a superb skater, stickhandler, shot blocker and defender.
What most hockey watchers are not aware of is that Harvey played goaltender and center in his younger years.
It was his understanding of how forwards moved and thought that made him very special on the blueline combining these skills with great athleticism.
Harvey was the real deal.
Red Kelly- Detroit Redwings
Leonard "Red" Kelly was a unique player while performing in a Detroit uniform. Kelly was a dynamic rushing defender with excellent defensive skills and a knack for reading the play before it developed.
In Detroit with Howe, Lindsay, Abel and company Kelly's contribution on the Detroit blueline made the Wings hard to defeat.
Kelly displayed further versatility when he was traded from the team by GM Jack Adams.
Kelly was asked to convert to Center from defense.
He did that and more consistently feeding Frank Mahovolich and skating with Montreal arch rival Jean Beliveau.
The Leafs won four cups with Kelly playing forward.
Mark Howe - Philadelphia Flyers
Mark Howe was asked to switch to defense when several of his WHA team mates were nursing injuries. Howe played the position so well it astounded his coaches and teammates.
Of course Mark Howe gets his talents honestly. He is the son of NHL great Gordie Howe.
Howe eventually landed in the NHL with Philadelphia and played like a true allstar coming in second in Norris balloting 3 times.
The debate still rages as to whether Howe should be inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame?
The answer is yes. He had skills.
Jean Claude Trembley- Montreal Canadians
Is it a wonder that the Canadians have won so many Stanley Cups. They seem to always have excellent two-way defensemen.
After an amateur and minor professional career in junior hockey that saw him move from forward to defense and win the league Most Valuable Player title in 1960.
JC Tremblay began playing for the Canadiens in that season, and stayed with the big league squad for good in the 1961-62 season, playing for five cup winning teams.
He became one of the NHL's preeminent stars on defense for both his offense and defensive performance, He earned five Stanley Cup Championships along the way. The Bagotville, Quebec native first attracted attention as a 17-year old, potting 71 goals in the 1956-57 campaign as a forward.
Trembley later went to the Quebec Nordiques srtting records for defensemen in assists with 77.
Pat Stapleton- Chicago Blackhawks
Pat Stapleton was almost always overlooked despite his excellent offensive skills and overall ability.
Stapleton was given away to the Blackhawks from the Boston Bruins, and helped the Blackhawks win a Stanley Cup with his two-way play.
Stapleton at 5'7" started as a center once scoring 29 goals playing in the WHL. His all around skills kept throwing him back to the blueline.
He was voted to the NHL Second All-Star Team in 1966 and repeated that performance in 1971 and 1972. He also played with the Hawks until the end of the 1972-73 season, and helped the team reach the Stanley Cup finals in 1971 and 1973.
His hands and lightning reflexes, combined with a hard, accurate shot, made him one of the more effective point men in the NHL. Defensively, he had significant finesse and tenacity.