Turns out nice guys don’t always finish last.
The patron on-ice saint of the Winnipeg Jets, forward Kyle Connor, has been named a finalist for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. It is handed out annually to the NHL player “adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”
“Anytime you get up for any type of awards, it’s pretty cool,” Connor told the Free Press on Wednesday in a telephone conversation from his off-season home in Michigan. “It’s such a tough league and you just look at the history of all the past winners. It’s an honour to be in the same conversation.”
Connor finished the season with 47 goals and 46 assists for 93 points while only taking two minor penalties in 79 games.
Connor is the third Jets 2.0 player to be nominated for an NHL year-end award. High-scoring winger Patrik Laine was runner-up to Auston Matthews for the Calder as rookie-of-the-year in 2017, and Connor Hellebuyck grabbed the Vezina as top goaltender in 2020.
Hellebuyck was a finalist for the same award in 2018, while former captain Andrew Ladd (2015) and current captain Blake Wheeler (2018) were finalists for the Mark Messier Leadership Award.
No Jets player, either in the 1.0 or 2.0 era, has ever won the Lady Byng. Nor has any member of the Atlanta Thrashers, who were moved to Winnipeg in 2011. (Dany Heatley won the Calder in 2002, and Ilya Kovalchuk won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard for top goal scorer in 2004).
Connor became a fixture on Winnipeg’s penalty kill this year, so he gained an up-close appreciation for the importance of staying out of the sin bin.
“It’s been pretty good to be utilized as a penalty killer. I’m enjoying it. I think we brought a little bit more of an offensive aspect to our kill. Just me being involved, and others,” said Connor. “We had quite a few shorties this year. I think it’s something that we can as a team utilize even more. You see it around the NHL at certain times, you turn the puck over and get those breakaways or two on ones.”
“They don’t talk about him enough, nationally, for his accomplishments in the game.” – Former coach Dave Lowry
Consider this: Connor was fourth among all NHL forwards in average time on ice (21:47) and 12th among all skaters in takeaways (66). To have that many puck thefts without having to resort to illegal tactics is not easy.
“A guy that has an impact every night on the outcome of a hockey game, leading the team in scoring, is one of the elite goal scorers in the National Hockey League, and he takes two minor penalties — that tells me right there he doesn’t get enough recognition,” former coach Dave Lowry recently said of Connor.
“They don’t talk about him enough, nationally, for his accomplishments in the game.”
Perhaps not in the past. But they certainly are now.