Let's get something straight right off the bat: There is no bigger Dustin Byfuglien fan than me. For two years I've been admiring and praising his great skill set.
It's time for him to take the next step.
There are plenty of players the Hawks need a huge second half from, and I'd say Buff is one of them -- not just for this year, but to set him up as a huge contributor for next season.
Sometimes Dustin is a beautiful thing to watch on the ice. Seeing players bounce off him as he skates fluidly up, down, and sometimes all around is kind of fun. I've never seen a bigger guy try to stickhandle through an entire team. That includes his own team, by the way!
I don't want to get into the whole wing or defense issue (wing!), but as long as he's on the blue line it's imperative -- just like for every defenseman -- that he make the right decisions with the puck.
Everyone has seen the highlight of the shorthanded goal by San Jose's Joe Pavelski before the All-Star break. Buff had a chance to put the puck back on the point to a wide open Brent Seabrook; instead, he went cross-ice and it got picked off and the rest is history.
Here's the bottom line: You have to have a plan with the puck every time you touch it; unless you're in trouble deep in your own end, of course, when it's OK just to get it out. Other than that, smart decisions have to be made with the puck. Tape-to-tape passes are a must while taking the easy play isn't a bad thing.
Byfuglien's shot is wicked and when he's stickhandling in a safe area, he can be pretty nifty. The positives need to outweigh the negatives. The good news is that most of his problems should disappear over time. These are not inherent career flaws.
Experience will teach him what the safe play is and when to take the risk. I think everyone agrees that when he's on he's a great talent, and maximizing his talents is the job of the coaching staff.
Remember, though, it takes time. Buff is better now than he was a year ago, and a year from now he could be near ready to be one of the better talents in the game.
When it's all said and done, Byfuglien (if he wanted) could be the career Hawks leader in 'Gordie Howe hat tricks'. That's how good his skills are.
For now, do your thing and keep learning the game, Big D. The rest should take care of itself.
Email pre- and post-game radio host Jesse Rogers at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to "Inside the Hawks" with Jesse and special Hawk guests Thursdays from 8-9 pm on WSCR 670-AM.