Byfuglien moves up front

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

CHICAGO -- His life has been spent on the blueline, but Dustin Byfuglien could just as easily be a power forward in the NHL.

Which is exactly what he's been for the Chicago Blackhawks recently.

Because of injuries and underperforming forwards, the 6-ft.-3, 246-pounder has been roaming the wing recently, even appearing on the top line with Martin Havlat and Robert Lang for a spell.

The concept is totally foreign to Byfuglien, who had never taken a regular shift as a winger even as a kid, but he's a natural.

"I just showed up at the rink one day, guys are sick, and they're like, 'Come up, you're going to play a little forward,' " said Byfuglien, who didn't even join the Hawks until Nov. 3 when he was recalled from the Rockford IceHogs as a defenceman.

"They like what they saw, I guess. They keep just putting me back up there."

And he's not looking out of place. He scored and had an assist in last night's 3-2 loss to the visiting Calgary Flames.

Even as a rearguard, the 22-year-old product of Minneapolis has shown a keen sense for offence.

Byfuglien led the WHL's Prince George Cougars in scoring during the 2004-05 season. He scored in his first NHL game this year and netted a natural hat-trick against Phoenix late last month -- becoming the third defenceman in the Hawks' 81-year history to score three in a game.

His 12 points place him sixth in team scoring, tops among those in his natural position despite appearing in only 17 games.

"It's a good position. It's fun. You get to let loose, run and bang guys," said the bulky Byfuglien of playing forward.

"A little bit more free range in the offensive zone.

"It's a little bit of a change. You've got to have a different focus on the game playing forward. A lot more skating."

He's up for the challenge as long as it lasts. And if it means he stays in the league a little longer than he would have playing on the back end, that's a bonus.

"I'm probably a little bit more comfortable on the blueline, but every game I feel like I'm getting more comfortable," said Byfuglien, who weighed around 275 lb. when he was drafted but has dropped nearly 30 lb. to become a rock-solid and intimidating presence.

"I can come back this afternoon and be playing defence. Everything changes so fast."

Byfuglien is starting to look like a steal after being selected in the eighth round of the 2003 draft, and his versatility makes him even more valuable to the Hawks.

"He's one of our most skilled guys," Savard said recently in a local newspaper.

"When he was here the first year at camp, he was a forward, and I think he's enjoying it."


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