The Dustin Byfuglien experiment is working out well so far for the Atlanta Thrashers

When the Chicago Blackhawks received a nice haul from the Atlanta Thrashers in a deal that featured Dustin Byfuglien, many people thought GM Rick Dudley gave up too much. Upon hearing that Dudley, coach Craig Ramsay and the jumbo-sized skater all agreed with the idea to move him back to his original position on defense, many people jeered.

(I was in that group to some extent, as I felt that the Thrashers’ greatest strength was their offensive ability on defense before adding Byfuglien.)

Well, it’s too early to officially say that Byfuglien and the Thrashers will make everyone eat some puck-flavored crow, but the experiment is passing with flying colors so far. Byfuglien’s highest moment as a Thrasher might have come tonight, as he scored a game-winning overtime goal and also produced an assist to help his team beat the struggling Buffalo Sabres.

Whether you judge him as a defenseman with a hellacious slapper or a gigantic winger whose big body can block the vision of even the largest goalies, he’s been outstanding in 2010-11. Byfuglien scored four goals and five assists for nine points in 10 games this season, with the only real blemish being his -4 rating.

It’s no accident that he’s producing at a higher level, either, as the skilled player is averaging far and away the most ice time of his six-year career, with more than 21 minutes per game. (He never averaged more than a little above 17 minutes per game in Chicago).

Now, one of the biggest critiques of Byfuglien’s game was that the enormous physical force would take a few nights off here and there, so it’s not safe to assume that he’ll maintain anything close to his near point-per-game pace during the entire year. Still, with that big boost of confidence he received from being frequently dominant during the 2010 playoffs, more ice time than ever and the financial incentive of a contract year, this could be a … well, Byfuglien-sized season for the young hybrid player.

It just goes to show you that the people paid to put together teams might know better than the rest of us every now and then.

Glendening done for year with fractured ankle, may need surgery

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What began as a promising season for Detroit’s Luke Glendening has ended on a sour note.

Glendening — signed in the offseason to a four-year, $7.2 million extension — suffered a fractured ankle in last night’s loss to Carolina, and is done for the year.

Wings GM Ken Holland announced the news on Wednesday, adding that the club wasn’t sure if Glendening would require surgery or not.

Glendening, 27, earned his extension after putting up a career-high 21 points in 81 games during the ’15-16 campaign. This year proved to be a frustrating one, though, at least in terms of offense — Glendening found the back of the net just three times in 74 games, and went nearly three months between tallies during the season.

His ice time also took a hit. After averaging over 14 minutes per night in each of the last two seasons, Glendening received just 12:55 TOI per.

 

Report: Wild land Gophers captain Kloos, in on Hobey Baker finalist Vecchione

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Minnesota could soon have a couple more additions to its impressive prospect pool.

Per the Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo, the club has agreed to terms with University of Minnesota senior Justin Kloos on a two-year, $1.4 million entry-level deal. Kloos — like another prospect that just left school, former first-round pick Luke Kunin — will report to AHL Iowa on an amateur tryout, and his ELC will kick in next year.

Kloos, 23, captained the Gophers to the NCAA championships this year, racking up 43 points in 38 games. Russo reported the undrafted free agent had “a bunch of offers” from NHL clubs including Calgary, Vancouver and San Jose.

And the Wild might not be done there.

In the same report, Russo also notes the Wild are “heavily in” on Union’s Mike Vecchione, widely regarded as one of the top UFDAs available in this year’s collegiate class.

Vecchione, a senior, finished third in the country this year with 62 points in 36 games en route to a Hobey Baker nomination. He’s captained Union in each of the last two seasons and is the reigning ECAC player of the year. The 24-year-old has been tied to the Flyers, given he has some familiarity with the organization and attended the club’s prospect development camp last summer.

These have to be exciting times for the Wild (if you ignore the fact they’re mired in an awful slump). Landing Kloos and the potential of getting Vecchione would, as mentioned above, add to a stable that includes Kunin, Russian Kirill Kaprizov, Sweden’s Joel Eriksson-Ek and Kunin’s U.S. junior teammate, Jordan Greenway, who all showed extremely well at the world juniors.

Speaking of Eriksson Ek, he’s up with the Wild now after being brought over from the Swedish League. Wild GM Chuck Fletcher is hopeful the 20-year-old — taken in the first round of the ’15 draft — can provide Minnesota with “a little shot in the arm.”

Hobbled Penguins hoping to be ‘healed up right around playoff time’

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PITTSBURGH (AP) Ron Hainsey arrived in Pittsburgh from Carolina a month ago on the verge of reaching the playoffs for the first time in his 14-year career.

The durable defenseman found an odd but perhaps apt way to fit in with his new team: He got hurt. Ten games into his tenure with the Penguins, Hainsey went down with an upper-body injury to join an increasingly long line of familiar faces watching in suits from the press box rather than wearing sweaters on the bench.

“Injuries happen,” Hainsey said on Tuesday after skating with his teammates, an important step toward his hopeful return before the postseason begins next month. “Obviously, this team we have a lot of them.”

So many to so many bold-faced names — from Hainsey and fellow defensemen Olli Maatta, Trevor Daley and Kris Letang to star center Evgeni Malkin and energetic young forwards Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary — that it’s remarkable the defending Stanley Cup champions have been able to hang around in the chase for the Metropolitan Division and the Presidents’ Trophy.

“It’s been crazy around here,” said defenseman Justin Schultz, one of only five players to miss fewer than five games so far. “You see so many guys walking around, it’s wild.”

The wear and tear from trying to keep it together with a threadbare lineup, however, is beginning to show.

Pittsburgh’s hopes of catching first-place Washington took a hit during a third-period implosion on Sunday night at home against Philadelphia as the Flyers poured in four goals over the final 20 minutes of a 6-2 win that left the Penguins three points behind the Capitals with seven games to go.

It was a rare forgettable night in a season that’s showcased both the brilliance of center Sidney Crosby (who’s 42 goals lead the league) and the laser focus preached by coach Mike Sullivan.

There have been few signs of a Stanley Cup hangover. The Penguins have the fewest home losses in the league and they’ve kept Washington and Columbus within arm’s reach despite the kind of health issues their two rivals have largely avoided.

The key now, even with players on the verge of returning, will be keeping it going. While the odds of Pittsburgh emerging from the three-way race – and avoiding a first-round matchup against the other runner-up – are iffy at best, don’t expect the Penguins to ease up in an effort to rest for the playoffs.

“Our experience has been that you just don’t flip a switch and turn it on,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to have to go into each game with a mindset of trying to win.”

Pittsburgh went 8-2 over its final 10 games of the regular season last spring then rolled to the franchise’s fourth championship. Putting together another surge will be difficult, though there were promising signs during a crowded post-practice dressing room.

Sheary, who left the loss to the Flyers with a lower-body injury, practiced on Tuesday and should play on Wednesday when Chicago visits. Jake Guentzel, who suffered a concussion last week after getting hit illegally by Buffalo’s Rasmus Ristolainen, skated but no timetable has been set for his return.

The rookie, who struggled getting off the ice after being leveled by Ristolainen, called the hit “just a hockey play,” though it ended with Ristolainen receiving a three-game suspension.

The line of Guentzel, Sheary and Crosby had almost single-handedly kept Pittsburgh’s offense going with Malkin out. They’re optimistic they’ll get a chance to recreate the mojo before the regular season ends.

“You don’t want to limp into the playoffs, losing a few games,” Sheary said. “I think momentum is a huge thing in this game. If you’re playing well going into the playoffs, I think that carries over big time.”

Getting familiar faces back in the lineup before mid-April is critical.

On that front at least, the Penguins appear to have been spared. It seems everyone has a chance to be in uniform when things get going for real.

“It seems like all the injuries are supposed to be healed up right around playoff time,” Sheary said.

“Hopefully we can get those guys back and use it to our advantage.”

School’s out: McAvoy signs ATO with Providence Bruins

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Charlie McAvoy is done with college hockey.

The 19-year-old defenseman is leaving Boston University to sign an amateur tryout with the Providence Bruins. It’s expected he’ll make his AHL debut this weekend.

McAvoy was drafted 14th overall in 2016 by the Boston Bruins. In addition to starring for the Terriers the past two seasons, he was named to the World Juniors All-Star Team after helping the Americans to the gold medal in 2017.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney did not rule out the possibility of McAvoy making his NHL debut this season. (If McAvoy does, he’ll burn the first year of his entry-level contract.)

As for the other BU star and Bruins draft pick, Sweeney said forward Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson has yet to decide whether to go pro.

Forsbacka-Karlsson, 20, was drafted 45th overall in 2015.