A ton of newsy items from my trip to the Thrashers practice facility Thursday to watch voluntary workout. I won’t bury the lead.
According to general manager Rick Dudley, it is a very real possibility that newly acquired Dustin Byfuglien could play defense next season. Here is the part of my interview with the GM on the subject.
Q. It appears the defense is close to being set with several players, like Arturs Kulda, competing for final spot. Would that be a fair statement?
A. I think Kulda has a chance to challenge for regular duty – as do some other people. A lot of it depends on what we do with Dustin [Byfuglien]. If we decide to play him at defense, it’s a much more difficult defense to make. If we decide to play him at forward, there is some room. A lot of that will depend on the people. If we have a guy that looks pretty good – like I look at [Alexey] Zubarev, he’s a pretty talented guy; same thing with Kulda and Freddy Meyers is a guy that’s proven can play in the NHL. All those guys have a chance to play regularly. They just have to show it. If we made a decision that we didn’t need to play Byfuglien at defense, that would be a reason why.
Q. So you are saying that it’s a real possibility that Byfuglien will switch to defense?
A. It’s a position that he likes to play. It’s a position that I thought he was well on his way to being a top, top defenseman in Chicago. We moved him to forward because we had no size up front. Obviously, he proved to be a very effective forward but that doesn’t mean he’s not an effective defenseman. Ultimately, if [coach] Craig [Ramsay] says he doesn’t want to play him at defense, it’s unlikely he’ll play on defense. Truthfully, I want to see [him switch]. He can score. He can score 15 goals as a defenseman. He’s got one of the hardest shots in the game.
Q. Would he still be a part of the power play?
A. He could play point or if they wanted he could be a net presence. … He’s got size and soft hands. If you put him in front of the net, he’s pretty effective. I wouldn’t mind seeing him on the point.
Q. Do you know if he has a preference, forward or defenseman?
A. He likes to play defense.
Q. How would moving him to defense affect your forwards?
A. If we don’t do anything else [signing-wise], than it depends on what some of the people do who come in at forward, whether or not they grab us. If we did something else up front, it would make it more likely that we would play him, at least for the time being, on defense. … [Alexander] Burmistrov, [Patrice] Cormier, [Spencer] Machacek, [Anthony] Stewart, [Angelo] Esposito. If one, or all of these guys, steps up to the plate it makes it easier to move Buff to defense or give him that opportunity.
When Byfuglien arrives for training camp, I will get his view on the subject. Until then, discuss.
In other items:
* Dudley said the team and restricted free agent Niclas Bergfors are not close on a new contract. “Once again, perhaps what we view the player and what they view the player may not be exactly the same,” Dudley said of his team’s view and the view of Bergfors and his agent. “The truth is, and I’ve kept to this, we will not do a deal where if there is a situation where we placed a player on waivers tomorrow, would he be claimed? If we are going to give him more money than that, than it’s silly. That’s been true of every player we’ve signed.”
* Dudley said that defenseman Kyle McLaren will be invited to training camp on a pro tryout. He also said there could be one more invitee.
* On the hunt for another 15-goal scorer – which could affect the move of Byfuglien – Dudley said this: “I would put it this way, if we don’t add a player, we are very happy to go in [to the season] the way we are. If there was a player who could score15-25 goals available, we’re interested. While we think we have that, it’s not a guarantee. It would have to be one of our younger players to step up to that level. We think it’s there but if you had a chance to make it a certainty, that’s a little different.”
* I checked in with Nik Antropov, who is skating after undergoing offseason hip surgery. He said he hopes to be ready by the start of training camp or shortly thereafter. I will save that conversation for a blog Friday.
* I’m starting to get the feeling that it wouldn’t be a big surprise if first-round pick Alexander Burmistrov makes the team. He weighed out Wednesday at 179 pounds. That’s just one pound under the weight Dudley said he would be comfortable seeing Burmistrov play at the NHL level.
* Quite a turnout at the voluntary workout. Here is my attendance card: Boris Valabik, Eric Boulton, Angelo Esposito, Alexander Burmistrov, Arturs Kulda, Byran Little, Evander Kane, Rich Peverely, Ondrej Pavelec, Andrey Zubarev, Ron Hainsey, Chris Thorburn, Tobias Enstrom, Nik Antropov, Chris Mason and Patrice Cormier.