Expectations are not usually high for an eighth-round pick in the National Hockey League Entry Draft.
So when Dustin Byfuglien joined the Chicago Blackhawks organization in 2003 by way of the #245 overall pick in the draft, it was probably something of a case of “let’s see what develops.”
Now standing at 6-foot, 4-inches tall and weighing 257 pounds, what matured was a versatile and dynamic hockey player who has shown strong play on both sides of the ice and a knack for playing hockey’s mental game.
A native of Minneapolis, Minn., Byfuglien posted 47 goals and 93 assists in 178 games over three full seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League before making his professional debut with the American Hockey League’s Norfolk Admirals in 2005.
In his first professional season, Byfuglien got the call to the NHL to join the Blackhawks for 25 games, making the most of his time there with three goals and two assists. Now in his fifth professional season, he has skated in 260 games with Chicago, recording 55 goals and 54 assists. He is one of three players from the eighth round of the 2003 draft to play more than 36 games in the NHL.
Byfuglien’s last visit to the minors came with the Rockford IceHogs, in the team’s first season in the AHL. He recorded two goals and five assists in eight games for Rockford to start the 2007-08 season before earning a permanent spot with the Blackhawks. At the time, he was the second recall to Chicago in the IceHogs’ young history.
The 25-year-old was drafted as a defenseman and came to the pros as one, but during the 2007-08 season he was asked to move to forward so the Blackhawks could capitalize on his large frame as a screen on opposing goalies.
Since moving to left wing, Byfuglien has spent significant time on the Blackhawks’ scoring lines, getting regular playing time with superstars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. In 14 games in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, the winger is tied for third on the team with six goals and has eight points, the most of any former IceHogs skater.
He caught the media’s attention with his play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals against the Vancouver Canucks in 2009 and much was made of his return to Vancouver in the Western Conference Semifinal rematch in 2010.
Now in his second year of his second contract, a three-year agreement with the Blackhawks, Byfuglien has become an important component of Chicago’s success in 2009 and 2010. He was even invited to Team USA’s Olympic try-outs, though was not invited to represent the country in Vancouver earlier this year.
During the remainder of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, icehogs.com will look at former Rockford IceHogs making an impact with the Chicago Blackhawks as they compete for the Stanley Cup.