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Eberle to join Nugent-Hopkins in Vegas

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Edmonton, AB - Wayne Gretzky won it in the 1979-80 season, a year in which he collected 51 goals, 137 points and only 21 penalty minutes as an NHL rookie.

Jari Kurri then did it in 1984-85, stringing together a similar season to Gretzky's with 135 points and 30 penalty minutes.

Now, 21-year-old Jordan Eberle has an opportunity to follow in the legends' Hall of Fame footsteps -- well, somewhat. Along with Florida's Brian Campbell and New York's Matt Moulson, Eberle has been named as a nominee for the Lady Byng Trophy, awarded annually to the player that's "exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability."

No. 14 has done that, netting 34 goals and 76 points, along with a miniscule 10 penalty minutes in 78 regular-season games as a sophomore.

"I'm very excited," Eberle grinned as caught up with him to chat about the news. "The more I looked into it and realized the recognition of the award, it really is amazing. I read some of the guys in the list (of past winners); Wayne Gretzky stood out to me and there's a ton of other guys. I'm very excited and honoured to be a part of it.

"Taylor (Hall) was telling me, ‘This is amazing, Jordan. This is something you should be proud of.'"

Since the Lady Byng Trophy's inception in 1925, it has been awarded to 51 players in the 86 times it's been presented. Post-lockout, only Datsyuk (2006-2009) and St. Louis have won (2010-2011).

"I love the way [Datsyuk and St. Louis] play, so I've tried to patent my game like them," Eberle explained. "I've never been a guy to shy away from the game. I'm always in the action, and you have to go to the tough areas to score goals."

Red Kelly was the last defenceman to win, but you'd have to go all the way back to 1954 to see his name scribbled in the record book. In more recent history, no Oiler has been named as a nominee since Kurri's win 27 years ago.

"He'd be do deserving to win it," said Oilers President of Hockey Operations, Kevin Lowe, who collected the league's King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 1990. "Jordan is a classic NHL player. 'Classic,' along the lineage of all the wonderful players that played with the grace and elegance that everybody wants to see; incredible star, exciting, brings you out of your seat -- but he plays with all the class and charisma of all the great, previous Lady Byng winners."

Particularly in the NHL's latest era when obstruction- and stick-related penalties happen regularly, it's challenging to play through an entire 82-game season without collecting a reasonable amount of minor calls -- however inadvertent.

"It's their ability that gets them out of situations where they'd be in contact with another player that might lead to a player to get penalty minutes," Lowe said, highlighting Eberle's knack to work the corners and drive the net cleanly. "He goes to all the tough areas. He as an ability to turn the corner, take the puck to the net and do it gracefully without running over the goaltender."

Just like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' nomination for the Calder Trophy last week, the Oilers organization is beaming with pride. As Lowe explains, it's "only the beginning" of a special story of league-wide recognition.

Eberle agrees -- even if he'd have come face-to-face with nerves on stage at the Wynn Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Scoring a goal before a sold-out crowd of 16,839 at Rexall Place is the easy part, it seems.

"I've never really been one to speak in front of people," he chuckled. "There will be some nerves if I win and have to go up and do a speech, but it's something I'm looking forward to." will be there every step of the way, chronicling Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins' experience at the NHL Awards on Jun. 20, 2012 at the Wynn Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

-- Ryan Dittrick, -

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