Byng-o! Jets’ Connor grabs some major NHL hardware

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Growing up as a little kid in Michigan, Kyle Connor dreamed of one day following in the slick skates of his idol, Pavel Datsyuk.

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Growing up as a little kid in Michigan, Kyle Connor dreamed of one day following in the slick skates of his idol, Pavel Datsyuk.

Now the Winnipeg Jets winger has joined the Detroit Red Wings great as having his name etched on the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, 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.”

“He had a run winning in 06, 07, 08 and 09, four trophies in a row,” Connor said Monday night of Datsyuk. He got a chance to face him at the World Championship in Russia a few years back, then received an autographed stick as a keepsake.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Winnipeg Jets’ Kyle Connor had just four penalty minutes in 79 regular-season games, which was the fewest of the league’s top 100 scorers.

“I tried to replicate and do everything he did. I watch a ton of YouTube videos. He was so creative, I just love that. Try to play as much like Pavel Datsyuk as I could. To see that come full circle and get my name on the same trophy as him is pretty special.”

Carolina Hurricanes defenceman Jaccob Slavin (last year’s winner) finished second, while Minnesota Wild rearguard Jared Spurgeon was third. Votes were submitted by 200 members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, including four Winnipeg-based writers.

Connor, 25, had just four penalty minutes in 79 regular-season games, which was the fewest of the league’s top 100 scorers. That’s a remarkable accomplishment for a top-line skater who plays heavy minutes and put up a career-best 47 goals, 46 assists and 93 points. A slash on Connor McDavid during a meeting with the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 18 and a hook on Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders on March 11 were his only two infractions.

“It’s such a great honour to win this award and for me to be recognized, there’s so many good, talented players out there in the league,” said Connor, who was handed the hardware by the wife and daughter of the late Mike Bossy.

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. Connor is the just the second Jets 2.0 player to win an NHL year-end award. Fellow Michigan native Connor Hellebuyck grabbed the Vezina as top goaltender in 2020.

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.

“I think with using my stick, it’s being smart with your feet, being in the right positioning to be able to check with your stick,” he said. “You know it’s not something where I go out there looking, I just play my game. Is it hard to not take penalties? I don’t think about it at all when I’m on the ice. Just kind of how I’ve always played the game and always will.”

With the Jets missing out on the playoffs, Connor said his focus is very much on what he and his teammates can do to ensure they’re still playing hockey next spring.

“I know we have a lot better in that locker room, so we’ll be looking forward, for me, too improve in all areas, as well as the team,” he said.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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Updated on Monday, June 6, 2022 8:58 PM CDT: Fixes typo.

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