Dustin Byfuglien might be a defenseman for Atlanta this season

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dustinbyfuglien1.jpgWhen the Atlanta Thrashers acquired Dustin Byfuglien from the Chicago Blackhawks to help bail the Blackhawks out of salary cap hell beef up their forward unit, it was viewed as a savvy move from Thrashers GM Rick Dudley. After all, a young team looking to rebuild sort of from the ground up after trading away Ilya Kovalchuk, getting a physical force to work the front of the net can help set the tone of games. It sure worked for the Blackhawks propelling them to win the Stanley Cup.

In what might turn out to be one of the most surprising moves of the off-season, it turns out that Dustin Byfuglien might turn out to be less of a power forward and more of an offensive defenseman, a move that GM Rick Dudley is more than ready to make as Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal Constitution finds out in a Q&A session with Dudley.

Q. It appears the defense is close to being set with several players, like Arturs Kulda, competing for final spot. Would that be a fair statement?

A. I think Kulda has a chance to challenge for regular duty – as do some other people. A lot of it depends on what we do with Dustin [Byfuglien]. If we decide to play him at defense, it’s a much more difficult defense to make. If we decide to play him at forward, there is some room. A lot of that will depend on the people. If we have a guy that looks pretty good – like I look at [Alexey] Zubarev, he’s a pretty talented guy; same thing with Kulda and Freddy Meyers is a guy that’s proven can play in the NHL. All those guys have a chance to play regularly. They just have to show it. If we made a decision that we didn’t need to play Byfuglien at defense, that would be a reason why.

Q. So you are saying that it’s a real possibility that Byfuglien will switch to defense?

A. It’s a position that he likes to play. It’s a position that I thought he was well on his way to being a top, top defenseman in Chicago. We moved him to forward because we had no size up front. Obviously, he proved to be a very effective forward but that doesn’t mean he’s not an effective defenseman. Ultimately, if [coach] Craig [Ramsay] says he doesn’t want to play him at defense, it’s unlikely he’ll play on defense. Truthfully, I want to see [him switch]. He can score. He can score 15 goals as a defenseman. He’s got one of the hardest shots in the game.

If you’re thinking this is a crazy thing for the Thrashers to be doing… It might be, but not for the reasons you’re thinking. Byfuglien came up through the Chicago system as a defenseman. I even witnessed such a game myself while he was a member of the Norfolk Admirals. He even played a handful of games as a defenseman for the Blackhawks last season.

While most will know Byfuglien for his net presence and ability to score up front, he does indeed have a big shot. At his size (6’4′ 250 pounds) he’d make for a menacing defenseman but is that where his skills are best suited? Considering his goal totals as a forward the last three seasons for the Blackhawks have been 19,15 and 17 is getting that sort of production from the blueline is a lot more difficult.

Moving Byfuglien to defense also tweaks the Thrashers forward depth and puts the pressure on their youth to step it up in training camp. Kids like 2010 first round pick Alexander Burmistrov or Angelo Esposito could have a big opportunity to make the NHL roster for the first time. To say the least, things are going to be exciting in Atlanta one way or the other.

Rangers’ Desjardins faces hearing for ‘dirty’ hit on Miles Wood

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Just hours after delivering a two-game preseason suspension to Tom Wilson, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety issued a statement on Twitter, this time saying Andrew Desjardins will have a hearing.

That hearing is scheduled to take place Monday. Desjardins received a match penalty for an illegal hit to the head of New Jersey Devils forward Miles Wood during Saturday’s preseason game between the Devils and Rangers.

The incident occurred before the midway point of the first period.

Wood was slow to get back to his feet, but did eventually return to the game. The hit resulted in a melee in front of the Rangers net, with John Moore also getting called for roughing.

Devils hold open tryouts for emergency goalies

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) Steven Porzio’s father was a New York Rangers fan, but he always rooted for the New Jersey Devils. A goaltender himself, Porzio was struck by Martin Brodeur, and he dreamed of replacing the NHL’s career wins leader when his days at the Prudential Center were done.

Porzio is now 27 years old and working in information technology, and he’s given up hope of replacing Brodeur.

He still might suit up for the Devils on their home rink, though.

Porzio and 14 others tried out Saturday to become the Devils’ emergency goaltender for this season. They were run through drills by former New Jersey goalie Scott Clemmensen at the Prudential Center, faced shots from players in the minor league system and even used a dressing room next door to the Devils’ home locker room.

Read more: Kings hope to find emergency goalie candidates with open tryouts

“You walk through the locker room area and see all the team photos, the little replica Stanley Cups,” Porzio said. “That gives you chills a little bit.”

This wasn’t exactly fantasy camp, though. Clemmensen pushed the prospective netminders – mostly former college or junior players – through rigorous tests to evaluate their skating and puckhandling.

“Put them through a legitimate goalie clinic today, which I don’t know if they were expecting,” said Sarah Baicker, the Devils’ director of content and communications, who helped coordinate the tryouts. “A couple guys looked like they’re going to sleep really well tonight.”

The tryouts are in response to a new league rule for this season, which mandates that teams have an emergency goalie present for all home games ready to fill in for either team. Last year, a number of clubs required backups on short notice, including when the Chicago Blackhawks called on Philadelphia-area youth hockey coach Eric Semborski for a game against the Flyers because Corey Crawford needed an emergency appendectomy.

New Jersey plans to pick a winner by the end of the week, and that goalie will need to be at all 41 Devils home games this season, plus the playoffs. New Jersey might pick more than one player to split up the schedule, though it hasn’t decided yet if the emergency goalies will be paid.

The 15 netminders at the rink Saturday were selected from a pool of nearly 400 applicants, some of whom were targeted by the team.

“The skill level was pretty good, and that’s what we’re looking for today,” said Clemmensen, now the goaltending development coach for the organization.

Among the final group was 43-year-old Anthony Felice, a hockey coach at Rye Country Day School in Rye, New York, who has been an emergency backup for the Devils’ minor league teams in Lowell and Trenton. Injuries have slowed the former junior player, but he’s healthy enough now to seek “a chance to do it one more time.”

“To come out here and be in the big building was a lot of fun,” he said.

Not all the participants were Devils fans, either. Matt Palella, a 23-year-old who played at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, just moved to the area from Chicago for a job in Manhattan a few weeks ago. He got word of the tryout and put in his name, not sure what he’d get from the experience.

“I was expecting, `Go in the corner, figure it out,”‘ he said. Instead, he was surprised by how well New Jersey treated him and the others. “It was top-notch.”

Palella blew out his knee late in his college career, and this was just his second time skating since the injury.

“I’m not hurt,” he said. “That’s all I care about. Walking away in one piece.”

 

Jankowski ‘continues to impress’ at Flames camp

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Mark Jankowski made his Calgary Flames debut last season. It appears he’s making quite a case to at least start the new campaign in the National Hockey League.

On Friday, he notched his third goal of the preseason, helping the Flames to a 4-2 victory over the Coyotes. Make that three goals in three exhibition games for Jankowski, Calgary’s first-round pick from the 2012 NHL Draft.

Once considered an “off-the-board” pick in that opening round, the 6-foot-4 center has developed into a very intriguing prospect, particularly after an impressive 2016-17 season down in Stockton, scoring 27 goals and 56 points in 64 AHL games. He appeared in one NHL game last season, and is leaving an impression during this year’s training camp, too.

Read more: Looking to make the leap — Mark Jankowski

“The confidence thing, right? These young players grow more confident as it goes,” head coach Glen Gulutzan said of the 23-year-old Jankowski following last night’s game.

“I thought he played well tonight. I thought he was better tonight than he was against Vancouver (on Wednesday) and he just continues to impress everybody.”

Calgary has three more preseason games remaining on their schedule, which could provide more of an opportunity for Jankowski to prove himself to the Flames coaching staff ahead of the regular season.

“I’m just trying to get better every day and keep on showing the coaching staff and management what I can bring to this team,” Jankowski told reporters.

“As camp goes on and it gets thinner and thinner, I just have to keep on doing that and get in some preseason games against almost full NHL lineups. That’s when you can really show your stuff, show you can play at this level and have an impact.”

Hossa undergoes ‘independent medical evaluation’ to determine if he’s eligible for LTIR

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Marian Hossa and the Chicago Blackhawks announced in June that the 38-year-old forward will miss the entire 2017-18 season with a skin disorder.

However, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, the National Hockey League has yet to determine if Hossa will be eligible for long-term injured reserve.

“Marian Hossa underwent an independent medical evaluation several days ago,’’ NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘We are waiting for the report. Once we have that, we should be in a position to determine his proper status.’’

Hossa’s total salary is only $1 million for this year. His cap hit remains at $5.275 million.

From CSN Chicago:

Here are two basics about the cap: a team can be 10 percent over it during the summer, and a team must be at or below it the day the regular season begins. If the Blackhawks place Hossa on LTIR, it wouldn’t take effect until the second day of the regular season. So on Day 1 of the season, the Blackhawks would still be carrying Hossa’s $5.275 cap hit.

Once the LTIR would take effect, though, the Blackhawks would have wiggle room. If they spent to the $75 million cap, they could utilize Hossa’s entire $5.275 million cap hit on other players.

While there are salary cap implications for Chicago with Hossa’s absence, not having him in the Blackhawks lineup is a difficult loss. Yes, he’s approaching 40 years of age, with more than 1,300 NHL regular season games under his belt. But last season, he also posted 26 goals and 45 points — still very productive at his age.

It was reported, prior to the Blackhawks announcing that Hossa had this skin condition, that there was a “legitimate possibility” Hossa had played his last NHL game.