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Thrashers sign Byfuglien to long-term contract extension

ATLANTA (Reuters) - The Atlanta Thrashers signed defenseman and leading scorer Dustin Byfuglien to a long-term contract extension on Tuesday.

The team did not disclose terms but local media reported the extension is for five years and worth $26 million.

"Dustin has emerged into an elite player this season and been invaluable as a leader both on and off the ice," Thrashers general manager Rick Dudley said in a statement on the team's website (www.thrashers.nhl.com).

"It was a priority to sign him and we're looking forward to witnessing his All-Star caliber play for many years to come."

Byfuglien ranks first among NHL defenseman with 17 goals and fifth with 43 points in 58 games this season.

"There are a lot of good things that are going to happen here," Byfuglien said.

"I'm excited to be here and be a part of everything that's going to happen. It's fun to be in an organization that builds from the bottom up."

The Thrashers acquired Byfuglien in the off-season in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks.

(Reporting by Mike Mouat in Windsor, Ontario; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)