The Winnipeg Jets had one of their best games of the young season when they hammered the Lightning 5-2 at the MTS Centre. Dustin Byfuglien led the way with a goal, an assist, and #1 star of the night honors. It’s no coincidence that the Jets’ best game of the season came during their most important player’s best game of the year.
Head coach Claude Noel saw it the same way. “This was Dustin’s best game with the Jets,” he said. “He’s got a lot of tools. He can be a great player, not just for us but in this league. He can be outstanding.” First thing is first though. He needs to be a great player for the Jets. Then we can start talking about Byfuglien as one of the best defensemen in the league.
Byfuglien is in an interesting situation in that the Jets depend on him so heavily to contribute offense from the blueline. He was the second leading scorer in Atlanta last season and he’s well on his way to be among the team’s leaders against this season. Forwards included. That may say more about the forwards than it says about Byfuglien though.
The difference between Byfuglien being “good” and “elite” was on full display against the Lightning on Monday night. He was all over the place—both offensively AND defensively. When he finds the right balance between the risky offensive defenseman and the imposing, physical defender, he’s the kind of guy who can be a difference maker on a Stanley Cup contender. He’s already proven that much. When he struggles to find the right balance, he’s the out-of-shape player that some Jets fans think is overpaid and should be traded for a bag of pucks.
Rest assured, Claude Noel wants to figure out a way to keep last night’s version around as long as possible. If he can, the Jets may find a way to climb out of the Southeast Division cellar. Otherwise, it will be a long winter in Winnipeg.