“They call me Bubba.”
As they should.
Standing at 6’3 and tipping the scales at 264lbs, Prince George Cougars defenseman Dustin Byfuglien has earned the nickname.
Granted, the Roseau, Minnesota native playing north of the border admits he has slimmed down from the 264 lbs that his Western Hockey League club has him listed at, taking away from any possible Andrei Medvedev references. Byfuglien is a content 245 lbs, shedding nearly 20 lbs since last season.
When you play two-thirds of each game, you just might do that.
“Playing 40 minutes,” paused Byfuglien, pondering his thought. “Once you get into the season you get used to it and you can do it.”
In fact, it’s very likely that the only time you won’t see the 245th overall selection in the 2003 National Hockey League Entry Draft on the ice, is when he’s across the ice, serving an infraction.
If being in the top 50 among penalty minute leaders last season wasn’t enough for the Chicago Blackhawks draftee, then certainly even Byfuglien himself must be impressed with the totals he’s managed to rack up this season. The Cougar, who amassed 137 minutes in the sin bin last year, is well on his way to toppling his totals set a season ago.
Bubba currently has 91 minutes in penalties, collecting the totals in just 28 games this season. That mark places him ninth among the league in minutes served.
It’s hard to imagine that a player with so many penalty minutes doesn’t have his physical game going, but that’s exactly what he’s been told to work on after attending the Blackhawks last two prospect camps. Another, obviously, is the weight concern.
“You know, I’ve got to cut down on the weight,” admitted Byfuglien, who reiterated that he’d worked hard over the summer, “and get the physical part going, and we’ll see what happens after that.”
But there’s more to the defenseman’s game than just that.
In fact, over the course of the last three seasons, Byfuglien has led the Prince George Cougar defense in scoring. In 2002-03, the former Brandon Wheat King amassed 39 points in 56 games. He followed up that showing by having an equally impressive year, scoring 16 goals and totalling 45 points in 66 games.
This season, though, Byfuglien is taking his game to an entirely new level. Playing in only 28 games this season due to a suspension involving the Spokane Chiefs, Byfuglien leads his club in points per game, and trails only Nicholas Drazenovic in total points. Drazenovic currently has 27 points in 34 games, while Byfuglien has 26.
Among those 26 points are 12 goals, which lead his Cougars club.
“I just fire the puck,” said the 19-year-old. “They say I’ve got a pretty good shot. I just shoot the puck at the net.”
A quarter of those goals came of the heels of his three-game suspension, given to him after several fights broke loose at the end of a Spokane/Prince George game.
He spoke casually about the incident after a game against the Calgary Hitmen.
“I got surrounded by a few guys, and kind of had to battle myself out of there and got into a few fights. I got suspended for a few games. I got a little bit more then what I should’ve. There’s nothing I could really do. The team was kind of surrounding.”
With an intent to injure infraction and 24 minutes in penalties amassed (which, among other things, included an instigator, a fighting major, a misconduct, and a match penalty), Byfuglien was suspended for three games by the Western Hockey League. His return, however, was a triumphant one, as Byfuglien became the first defenseman in recent WHL history to record a natural hat trick.
“It was just a great thing,” exclaimed Byfuglien of the goal scoring spurt. “I just came back and I was ready to go. It was a long three games sitting out and I just wanted to show the guys that I didn’t want to be out of the lineup and just show them what I can do.”
He’s making an effort to show others what he can do as well. With a prospect pool that boasts the likes of Brent Seabrook, Anton Babchuck and Cam Barker, Bubba’s doing all he can to earn the respect of the Chicago Blackhawks, and hopes to hear his name uttered in the same breath as Chicago’s elite defense.
“There’s a lot of good guys over the last couple of years to be drafted there, and it’d be a great feeling to be in there with those guys.”
Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.