Nathan MacKinnon says he never thought he would win the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, but his compete level and disciplined play this past season made his name synonymous with the award.
The NHL announced on Friday evening that the Colorado Avalanche forward was the recipient of the 2019-20 award, presented annually "to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability."
The winners of this trophy have to balance playing within the rules and competing at a high level on the ice, and MacKinnon showed that he found that equilibrium of playing with intensity while toeing the line in the most recent campaign.
"I think it's just a line you need to hover on. I respect my opponents, I don't want to be dirty, I also want to be trusted by the coaching staff that I won't take penalties and things like that," said MacKinnon. "With my skating I try to use my legs to stick-check and things like that and not take unnecessary minors, but I never thought I'd win this award. I usually get a few more minors than this, but obviously I'm very honored."
MacKinnon led the Avalanche and finished fifth in league scoring with 93 points (35 goals, 58 assists) in 69 games while collecting just 12 penalty minutes this season, becoming the first player in franchise history to produce 90 or more points in a campaign while recording 12 or fewer penalty minutes.
Video: Nathan MacKinnon is awarded the Lady Byng Trophy
In fact, the 25-year-old is just the third player (fourth time) in the last 20 years to register more than 90 points with 12 or fewer penalty minutes, joining Aleksander Barkov (96 points, eight penalty minutes in 2018-19) and Martin St. Louis (99 points, 12 penalty minutes in 2010-11 and 94 points, 12 penalty minutes in 2009-10).
"It's amazing to win this award. Some of the best players ever have won this award so for me to also win this is very humbling and exciting," the Avalanche center said in his acceptance speech. "Never thought I would win this one, but it's cool and I'm very honored."
MacKinnon is the third player in franchise history to be awarded the Lady Byng, joining Joe Sakic in 2001 and Ryan O'Reilly in 2014. Some of the previous winners include Wayne Gretzky, Pavel Datsyuk, Paul Kariya, St. Louis and Red Kelly.
The winner of the Lady Byng is selected by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association at the end of the regular season. MacKinnon received 984 votes, besting Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs (616 votes) and O'Reilly (561), who is now with the St. Louis Blues.
This marks the second postseason award of MacKinnon's career, as he captured the 2013-14 Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. At 18 years, 224 days, he was the youngest player to ever win the Calder and was also named to the NHL All-Rookie Team that year. He was named to the NHL's Second All-Star Team during the 2017-18 season.
This year, MacKinnon is also a finalist for the 2019-20 Hart Memorial Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award. The winners of those pieces of hardware will both be announced in an Awards Show during the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, with the exact details on date and time of the 30-minute program to be announced later.
Video: Nathan MacKinnon on winning the Lady Byng Trophy
"I mean obviously I'm hopeful, it would be really cool to win [those awards] but I'm not counting on anything," said MacKinnon, who was also a finalist for both awards in 2017-18. "I think a couple years ago it meant more to me then than it does now. Whether you win it or not, your career goes on, life goes on. Just trying to get better, continue to strive to get better every day and become a better player, better person, things like that. Obviously, I'm competitive, I want to win everything I am up for, but at the end of the day I just want to win the Stanley Cup. Didn't happen this year, still a bitter taste but we will see what happens with the individual stuff."
The first overall selection in the 2013 NHL Draft, MacKinnon has totaled 495 points (190 goals, 305 assists) in 525 career regular-season NHL games after becoming the youngest player in franchise history to make his debut at 18 years, 31 days.