Byfuglien skates with teammates, but not ready for return to lineup

Winnipeg Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien was back on the ice with his teammates for the first time in more than a month, but his services won’t be available for tonight’s game against the Dallas Stars.

Byfuglien, who was wearing a non-contact jersey for the morning skate, has missed the last 17 games with a lower-body injury he sustained Feb. 14. He’s likely to miss the next couple of games, though head coach Paul Maurice called his return Monday the first “big step” in his recovery.

“We’ll get him into a full practice on Wednesday, and then kind of move forward from there,” Maurice told reporters. “He’s been able to do quite a bit off-ice (workouts), which has been good so he doesn’t feel far off it.”

“Dustin is one of those guys, for the most part, who can miss a couple weeks and then throw his gear on and you can’t tell,” added the Jets coach. “There’s a certain timeline for the doctors to say, ‘OK, there’s the appropriate amount of healing that if he feels good he can go.’ This is the week, this past week, where he’s starting to come to the rink and say, ‘Yeah, I feel pretty darn good.’”

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Winnipeg Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien was back on the ice with his teammates for the first time in more than a month, but his services won’t be available for tonight’s game against the Dallas Stars.

Byfuglien, who was wearing a non-contact jersey for the morning skate, has missed the last 17 games with a lower-body injury he sustained Feb. 14. He’s likely to miss the next couple of games, though head coach Paul Maurice called his return Monday the first “big step” in his recovery.

“We’ll get him into a full practice on Wednesday, and then kind of move forward from there,” Maurice told reporters. “He’s been able to do quite a bit off-ice (workouts), which has been good so he doesn’t feel far off it.”

“Dustin is one of those guys, for the most part, who can miss a couple weeks and then throw his gear on and you can’t tell,” added the Jets coach. “There’s a certain timeline for the doctors to say, ‘OK, there’s the appropriate amount of healing that if he feels good he can go.’ This is the week, this past week, where he’s starting to come to the rink and say, ‘Yeah, I feel pretty darn good.’”

Byfuglien has missed two notable stretches this season, including a span of 15 games, between Dec. 29 and Feb. 7, with a high-ankle sprain. The 33-year-old has been a part of just 37 games this year — just under half of the Jets’ 75 games played so far in the 2018-19 campaign. He has registered 30 points (four goals and 26 assists) and averages a team-high 24 minutes, 26 seconds of ice time per game.

The presence of the big defenceman, albeit brief, had a notable effect in the Jets’ locker room, with a number of players anxious to see him back in the lineup.

“Really encouraging. We’re not going to accomplish our goals without him,” said captain Blake Wheeler. “We’ve sure missed him and it’s great to see him back out there with the boys. He always brings a positive energy to our room, and anytime he’s on the ice with us. It’s a good sign.”

Tonight’s game between the Jets and Stars could be a sneak preview of what’s to come. Winnipeg (45-26-4) clinched a playoff spot with a 5-0 victory over the Nashville Predators Saturday, and is four points up on the Predators — with a game in hand — for top spot in the Central. The Jets have won five of their last six games.

The Stars (38-31-6) occupy the first wild-card playoff spot, which would pin them against the Jets if the playoffs were to start today. Dallas has a game in hand on the Colorado Avalanche, one point behind them in the second wild-card spot. The Stars have lost two straight and are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games.

Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck gets the star, coming off Saturday’s shutout. Dallas will counter with the red-hot Ben Bishop between the pipes. He is 6-1-0 in his last seven games, boasting a 0.78 goals-against average and a .973 save percentage — including three shutouts — over that stretch.

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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