WINNIPEG - Big blue-liner Dustin Byfuglien looked pretty trim when he showed up for a brief Winnipeg Jets training camp this season.
But for coach Claude Noel, it's not just Byfuglien's physical conditioning but the way he's playing that has made for a very impressive start to the season.
"His conditioning level is good," Noel said Wednesday, smiling after the Jets returned with three out of a possible four points from a two-game road swing.
"I think the thing that's important with Byfuglien is it's not so much the minutes but the consistency in his play and I think he's been fabulous in the way he's played."
Last season, he was the No. 2 scoring defenceman in the NHL but his defensive play sometimes was lacking. This season that has changed.
Byfuglien has so far logged a team-high 27:09 minutes, with a goal and two assists, and his partner Tobias Enstrom is a close second at 26:36 and is Winnipeg's scoring leader after just three games with four assists.
Noel suggests Byfuglien's development is a sign of maturity and that he recognizes what has to be done to succeed in a very short season.
"As we all know, Dustin can play that gunslinger type of game that can keep you on the edge of your seat in both ways and I think he's cognisant of that and I think he's managed his games well, really well.
"We're reliant on him, I think he recognizes the urgency of wins and I think he recognizes the impact he can have on games. . . I think he's matured."
All-in-all, Noel is pretty happy with a lot that the Jets are doing this season, after an embarrassing home-ice loss to the Ottawa Senators to start the season.
Last season the Jets shone at home but stumbled regularly on the road.
"I like the improvement from game to game," said the coach.
"I think the focus is good. I think the will to win is real good. . . Very clearly for me, the players have thought about last season."
The win Tuesday in Washington was good but Noel says he was particularly impressed with the team in Boston, where they battled to a 1-1 tie and walked away with a point after a shootout loss.
"To me that's a heavy game. How you're going to respond to that, to me that's what impressed me the most about that game."
Now the Jets have to prepare for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sidney Crosby Friday night at home and Noel says just like Boston, Pittsburgh is a very tough team.
"It's the same thing. You're going to have to be aware of their top players. They've got a fair amount of guys that can hurt you.
"In a season where Crosby has been out for a while and now has been waiting to play? The enthusiasm and passion he normally plays with is a little bit frightening."