NHL: How the Hawks got Big Buff

Marshall Johnston was in Portland, Ore., scouting a prospect when he took a detour that eventually helped the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup.

Marshall Johnston was in Portland, Ore., scouting a prospect when he took a detour that eventually helped the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup.

It was 2003 and Johnston, who lives in Bemidji, was employed as a scout for the Blackhawks.

On this trip, he was assigned to watch Portland Winter Hawks defenseman Braydon Coburn play on Friday and Sunday. With nothing to do on Saturday night, Johnston decided to drive to Seattle to watch the Thunderbirds play against Prince George.

When he got to Seattle, Johnston couldn't help but notice a big, mobile player on the Prince George team.

"He was playing forward, he was playing defense," Johnston said. "He was skating, puck-handling, shooting. . . he must have played 35 minutes in that game."


He was Dustin Byfuglien.

Byfuglien, born in Minneapolis and raised in Roseau, was a solid player but not a top draft prospect. A total of 244 picks had come and gone without a mention of Byfuglien in the 2003 event.

Then, it was time for the Chicago Blackhawks to make their eighth-round pick. General manager Mike Smith asked the scouts if there was any player available who they really liked.

After some moments of silence, Johnston suggested Byfuglien.

"I didn't even know how to pronounce his name," Johnston said. "I just suggested this Dustin Byfuglien guy and Mike Smith said: 'OK, fine, we'll take him.'

"I only saw him play once. Sometimes, in scouting, the more you see a guy, the more critical you get. If I had seen him more than once, I might have been too critical, too. It was probably more good luck than good management."

Little did anybody know, that pick would help the Blackhawks break a 49-year Stanley Cup drought

It took Byfuglien two more years to reach the NHL, four years to make an impact.


Then came this year's playoff run, when Byfuglien scored 11 goals, tying a team high. He led all NHL players with five game-winning goals in the playoffs.

Byfuglien scored three game-winners in the Western Conference finals against San Jose. He had a big, four-point night in a pivotal Game 5 victory in the Stanley Cup finals. And in the Stanley Cup clincher, Byfuglien scored the first goal of the game.

Johnston was let go by Chicago a couple of years ago in sweeping changes by the organization, but he always stayed close with the Byfugliens.

In fact, when Byfuglien's grandfather, Kenny, returned to Roseau on Saturday morning after attending the Stanley Cup victory parade in Chicago, he called Johnston to chat.

"I'm just so happy for him, I can hardly explain it," said Johnston, who also helped Byfuglien get his GED. "He's a good kid and to see him have success is great."

Reach Schlossman at (701) 780-1129; (800) 477-6572, ext. 129; or send e-mail to .

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at
What To Read Next
Get Local