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Buff's Stuff: Dustin Byfuglien's dominance as a defender is pushing Jets to new heights

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Dustin Byfuglien has been taking tough assignments and beating them, which has lead to the Jets success.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Not long ago, we discussed how the Winnipeg Jets had turned into a top 10 possession team. In the article we discussed which Jets had seen the most dramatic improvement.

One of the most improved players was Dustin Byfuglien. The major reason for Byfuglien's improvement was a change in position. Byfuglien has often struggled as a forward, despite being a high impact defenseman.

We can see this when we look at Byfuglien's 5-on-5 even strength results for his last set of games played as a defender versus as a forward.

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The difference is staggering. Byfuglien scores more points per game as a defender. He also out possessess and out scores his opponents as a defender, but fails to do so as a forward. While Byfuglien's current set as a defender is a small sample, the results are within historical normalcy.

Byfuglien's strong play has factored into the Jets recent success but his impact extends even beyond that. Corsi (or anything else in hockey for that matter) though can never be divorced from the contextual nuances that surround it.

Byfuglien has shouldered the toughest minutes for the Jets. In turn, the remainder of the Jets have enjoyed taking advantage of other teams' lesser players.

We can use player charts from war-on-ice.com to see how much of an impact this has had on the Jets.

Here are the Winnipeg Jets defenders compared to the other Canadian teams since Byfuglien's move back to defense (December 4th):

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The concept of these charts are simple. Higher up the y-axis represents a larger percentage of a player's TOI against the opponents best players. Left on the x-axis represents a larger percentage of shifts starting in the defensive zone rather than the offensive zone. The size of a bubble represents ice time. Finally, the colouring represents the extent a team is out shooting (blue) or being out shot (red) with said player on the ice.

Now here are the Winnipeg Jets defenders compared to the other Central division teams since Byfuglien's move back to defense (December 4th):

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The top left region is the "shutdown zone", where a player is taking tough defensive zone assignments against the other team's top lines. It is difficult to succeed here even for the best defenseman. Yet, here is the Jets own Big Buff playing big minutes and beating them.

Byfuglien may not be able to sustain these results, especially while carrying aroudn an AHL call up for a defensive partner. However, Byfuglien will be key for the Jets if they are to survive this period with Tobias Enstrom, Jacob Trouba, and Zach Bogosian injured.