Daily Herald
Pick a position, and leave Byfuglien there
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 2/7/2008 12:09 AM

EDMONTON, Alberta -- Dustin Byfuglien has a world of potential to be an impact player in the NHL. This much we know.

What nobody knows, not even the Blackhawks, is where Byfuglien will have the most impact down the road -- as a defenseman, his natural position, or at wing.

Hawks coach Denis Savard believes Byfuglien can be a top-six power forward, and it might be approaching the time for the club to decide once and for all the position that's best for the 22-year-old and continue his development there instead of shuffling him back and forth.

Savard agrees, which is why you can expect to see Byfuglien play mostly forward the rest of this season.

"Power forwards are tough to find, and I think he fits that position," Savard said Wednesday. "Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think I am. I think I've got a pretty good eye on hockey players and really strongly feel he's going to become a good power forward in this league.

"We're still tweaking with him. We know he can play defense, but I believe he's going to be a strong power forward in this league. He's had some good games on defense, too. I'm not saying we'll never use him there again, but for now he fits up front, and we'll evaluate everything as we go on."

Savard thinks Byfuglien can be as good as he wants to be, which means dedicating himself to being a more fit athlete.

Byfuglien has come a long way from the overweight kid he was just a few years ago when he approached 280 pounds (he's 246 now), but Savard says there's more commitment to be made, starting now and into the summer.

"We've really worked him hard lately, and playing up front is going to improve his conditioning," Savard said. "I want for him to understand that once his conditioning gets to a level where he's able to sustain a 40-second shift every third time, he's going to see where he's at in his game and what kind of player he is. Until then, it's pretty tough. He gets tired. You watch third periods when he has played over 12 minutes a game, especially up front, and he gets tired.

"Conditioning has to be done over the summer, and he's willing to sacrifice," Savard said. "I'm doing it for him because once he gets to the peak he's going to see how good it's going to feel and how easier the games are going to be. When you get tired you make mistakes."

Looking to next season the Hawks figure to have a bigger need for Byfuglien to play forward rather than defense, particularly if they sign a top tier free-agent defenseman to join the mix with Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brent Sopel, James Wisniewski and Cam Barker.

"The bigger power forwards you have, the better you're going to be," Savard said. "You look at some of the top teams in the league with size, and it's a sign of where they are in the standings. I believe in size. You need that big player."