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.

NHL schedules hearing with Orpik over Maatta hit

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Brooks Orpik‘s late hit in Game 2 on Saturday might keep him out of Monday’s contest.

At the very least, the NHL Department of Player Safety intends to discuss the matter with Orpik today, per the department’s Twitter feed.

The incident occurred early in the first period when the Capitals forward smashed into Olli Maatta. The Penguins blueliner collapsed and needed some assistance getting off the ice. He didn’t return to the game.

You can see that hit below:

“I thought it was a late hit,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I thought it was a target to his head. I think it’s the type of hit everyone in hockey is trying to remove from the game.”

The Penguins didn’t have an update on Maatta’s condition immediately following the contest.

‘I don’t know if it has sunk in yet,’ Jets GM Cheveldayoff gets lucky with draft lottery

Kevin Cheveldayoff, general manager of Winnipeg Jets, speaks to members of the media after winning the second selection of the NHL hockey draft lottery in Toronto, Saturday, April 30, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
The Canadian Press via AP
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The Toronto Maple Leafs may have won the draft lottery, but an argument can be made that the luckiest team last night was the Winnipeg Jets.

After all, Toronto had the best odds to get the top pick, but Winnipeg jumped from sixth to second in the draft order.

“I don’t know if it has sunk in yet,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff told the Winnipeg Sun. “I was doing my scrum at the end (of the show) with the media that was here, I said at one point, ‘Moving from six to two…’ and I had to catch myself and go through the mental notes in my head that it had just really happened.”

It’s likely, though not guaranteed, that the Maple Leafs will take Auston Matthews with the first overall pick. Assuming that’s the case, moving up to the second overall pick means that Winnipeg will have the option of choosing one of the two promising Finnish forwards available: Patrik Laine or Jesse Puljujarvi.

That’s potentially a big break for Winnipeg, especially after this campaign where the Jets went from making the playoffs for the first time since relocating to posting a 35-39-8 record. Through five campaigns in Winnipeg, the Jets have missed the playoffs four times.

The last time this franchise drafted this high was back when the then Atlanta Thrashers took Kari Lehtonen with the second overall pick in 2002. That was the final year in a string of four straight drafts where the Thrashers always had the first or second selection. The previous three years they took Patrik Stefan (1999), Dany Heatley (2000), and Ilya Kovalchuk (2001).

Related: Shanahan: Leafs earned No. 1 pick ‘the hard way’

Here’s your Stanley Cup playoffs schedule for today

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After the Eastern Conference Game 2s played out on Saturday, we’re getting the Western Conference set today. You can watch the action via NBC Sports Group’s television and digital platforms.

Here’s a quick overview of where specifically you can watch the contests:

St. Louis at Dallas (3:00 p.m. ET)

If you want to watch the game on television, NBC is the channel to do that. If you want to stream the game with the NBC Sports Live Extra app, click here.

Nashville at San Jose (8:00 p.m. ET)

The game will be televised on NBCSN. You can also stream the contest by clicking here.

Here’s some relevant pregame reading material:

With Eaves injured, Nichushkin will play for Stars in Game 2

Hitchcock, Blues know they need to slow down the Stars … but can they?

Sharks swarm in the third period, take down Predators in Game 1

Speed, skill help Stars score late victory to take series lead over Blues

Video: Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta

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The Pittsburgh Penguins have spoken out against a late, high hit that Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik threw on Olli Maatta early in the first period of an eventful Game 2 on Saturday.

Maatta left and didn’t return. He played only 31 seconds, and the Penguins were reduced to five defensemen for a large portion of the game. Orpik was given a minor penalty on the play, but the league’s Department of Player Safety may see it differently.

The hit occurred well after Maatta had gotten rid of the puck. He struggled on his way to the dressing room for further evaluation.

Based on multiple reports, Orpik wasn’t made available to the media following the game, which went to the Penguins as they earned the split on the road.

But the Penguins have taken issue with the hit.

“I thought it was a late hit,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, as per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “I thought it was a target to his head. I think it’s the type of hit everyone in hockey is trying to remove from the game.”