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Connor honoured to win Lady Byng Memorial Trophy

"I'm sure I'll look back at this one and I'll be smiling at it."

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

While Pavel Datsyuk was rattling off four consecutive Lady Byng Memorial Trophies between 2005 and 2009, a young Kyle Connor was watching every single YouTube video he could find of the Detroit Red Wings superstar.

Fast forward to 2022, and Connor can now add his name to the trophy that his idol's name on it.

"I try to replicate and do everything he did," said Connor on Tuesday night, shortly after winning the award for the 2021-22 campaign.

"To see that come full circle and get my name on the same trophy as him is pretty special."

Connor's name was on 181 of the 195 ballots cast by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. On 122 of those, his name was in the first spot.

Video: VIDEO CALL | Kyle Connor

The 25-year-old from Shelby Township, Michigan beat out last year's winner - Jaccob Slavin of the Carolina Hurricanes - and Minnesota Wild defenceman Jared Spurgeon for this year's award. 

The trophy was presented by the wife and daughter of the late Mike Bossy, who won the Lady Byng on three occasions - 1983, 1984, and 1986.

"That was very cool," Connor said. "Obviously Mike's a very special player. Unfortunately the way he passed away this past year. To get a very special award from those two was pretty cool."

The award is 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 high-flying Winnipeg Jets forward was the exact definition of that all season. 

His 47 goals and 93 points set new franchise records since the team relocated to Winnipeg in 2011. His 36 even-strength goals were the second most in the NHL, and he was fourth among all forwards in average ice time at 21:47. 

All that time on the ice, all those points, and still only four penalty minutes.

"It's just kind of how I've always played my game, just kind of used my footspeed and my stick to check moreso than my body," said Connor. "It's being smart with your feet, being in the right positioning to be able to check with your stick. 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."

Throughout the season, as the goals and points kept piling up, Connor always maintained that this was the level he expected out of himself. He put the work in during the off-season and this type of season - his first 40-goal season after scoring 30-plus in three of the last four - was the reward for that.

Video: LADY BYNG | Kyle Connor

It's a mindset he's always had. He credits it to growing up competing against his brothers - Brendan and Jacob - and it's carried into practices with his teammates, and on the ice against NHL competition night after night. 

And now, as he joins Connor Hellebuyck - who won the Vezina Trophy in 2020 - as the only members of the current version of the Winnipeg Jets with individual NHL hardware, that competitive spirit might fire up again before the 2022-23 season even starts.

"We've always had a good friendly banter and competition. We skate with each other in the summer," said Connor. "Every single shot I think I'm going to score on him, and he thinks he's going to save every shot. It makes for some fun competitive skates. That's why we continue to get better as a group and both of us individually."

If Connor ever needs more motivation, he only needs to look at another piece of memorabilia already in his trophy case.

An autographed stick from Datsyuk himself.

Connor received it shortly after the 2016 IIHF World Hockey Championship. That same year, Todd Woodcroft, who later became an assistant coach with the Jets in the fall of 2016 through 2020, worked with Belarus at the same event.

While Datsyuk played for Russia, Woodcroft had a relationship with the five-time Olympian, and got the stick signed for Connor early on in his tenure with the Jets.

"It's pretty special," Connor said, who remembers one other thing about that particular World Championship.

Video: Kyle Connor's 47 Goals

Even if that memory involves a 7-2 loss to Datsyuk and the Russians.

"I actually played against him at the World Championship over in Russia. Classic Datsyuk, he picked like three or four of our guys on Team USA and ended up burying one right after," Connor grinned. "That was the only time I ever played against him. It was a dream come true for sure."

He likely had a bit of a grin on his face that night after playing against Datsyuk, and after tonight, he's one step closer to his goal of replicating everything Datsyuk did.

Just like the YouTube videos.

"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," Connor said. "It's pretty cool, so I'm sure I'll look back at this one and I'll be smiling at it." 

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