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Byfuglien takes 'first big step' toward return to Jets

Defenseman back on ice, has missed 17 games with lower-body injury

by Scott Billeck / NHL.com Correspondent

Byfuglien's opening-minute goal

WPG@SJS: Byfuglien roofs early breakaway after steal

Dustin Byfuglien pokes the puck away from Brent Burns and beats Martin Jones high on a breakaway to give the Jets an early 1-0 lead

  • 00:48 •

WINNIPEG -- Dustin Byfuglien is getting closer to a return for the Winnipeg Jets. 

The defenseman was back on the ice for Winnipeg's morning skate ahead of the game against the Dallas Stars at Bell MTS Place on Monday (8 p.m. ET; TSN3, FS-SW, NHL.TV.). 

 

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Byfuglien, who skated wearing a yellow non-contact jersey, has missed 17 games with a lower-body injury and won't play Monday. 

"This is the first big step," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "Put on a non-contact and skate with the guys. We'll get him in a full practice on Wednesday and move forward from there. 

"He's been able to do quite a bit off-ice, which is good, so he doesn't feel far off it. Dustin is one of those guys for the most part who could miss a couple of weeks, throw his gear on and you can't tell."

Byfuglien has 30 points (four goals, 26 assists) while averaging 24:26 of ice time in 37 games this season. He missed 15 games from Dec. 29 to Feb. 7 because of a separate lower-body injury and was sidelined with injuries on two other occasions this season. 

The Jets (45-26-4) clinched a Stanley Cup Playoff berth with a 5-0 win against the Nashville Predators on Saturday. They lead the Predators by four points for first place in the Central Division.

"Really encouraging," forward Blake Wheeler said of Byfuglien. "We're not going to accomplish our goals without him. We've sure missed him and it's great to see him back out there with the boys.

"He's a positive influence in our room. Brings a lot of energy. Brings a positive attitude every day." 

Maurice said Byfuglien's physicality has also been missed. 

"I've told that story and it's so true: he changes the way forwards view their night," Maurice said. "You're not checking your shoulder quite as hard when it's not Dustin coming after you."

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