An All-Star on defense, Byfuglien can’t see himself returning to forward

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COLUMBUS, OH — Big Buff’s a blueliner. Just ask him.

During All-Star media availability at Nationwide on Friday, Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien made it clear he wants to keep playing defense for the Jets, even though the club projects to have nine healthy d-men at the conclusion of the ASG break.

“Nothing’s really come out yet, but I can’t see myself going back to forward,” Byfuglien said, when asked if head coach Paul Maurice had confirmed a permanent spot on defense. “I hope not.”

So, does that mean he wants to stick on the blueline for good?

“I think that’d be a little better,” he replied.

Not a surprising response. Byfuglien, who’s moved back and forth between forward and defense throughout his 10-year career, has now made the All-Star game for the second time as a rearguard; the first came in 2011, when he represented the Atlanta Thrashers and went on to finish seventh in Norris Trophy voting.

This year, Byfuglien began the year as a forward but was called into defensive duty when Jacob Trouba, Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom went down to injury. Maurice made the switch on Dec. 5 and the results have been fantastic: Byfuglien has 20 points in 22 games with a plus-7 rating, and has logged some absolutely massive TOI totals, including this eight-game stretch in January:

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Not coincidentally, the Jets have gone 13-5-4 since the 6-foot-5, 265-pounder made the move.

The only issue, as mentioned above, is Winnipeg’s current surplus of defensemen. Enstrom, Bogosian and Trouba are all big-minute guys themselves (each averages more than 22 per game) while the likes of Mark Stuart, Ben Chiarot, Jay Harrison, Paul Postma and Adam Pardy have all made significant contributions this season as well.

Regardless, Byfuglien wants to stay on D.

“It wasn’t an easy task to do, but in Winnipeg we’ve changed our gameplan and our systems, so to go back on D now and have such a big impact right away, it’s nice,” he explained. “The way our team’s been playing, it just makes it easier to play.”

Related: In praise of Dustin Byfuglien