Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins Could Both Bring Home Some Hardware

When the National Hockey League announced Jordan Eberle as a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy yesterday afternoon, he joined teammate Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as the second Edmonton Oilers player to be nominated for a major season ending award. With RNH having already been announced for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year, it marked the first time two Oiler players have been up for major year end awards, in the same season, since1988. Which was the final season that Wayne Gretzky would be in an Oilers uniform. That season the Great One was in the running for both the Hart and Lady Byng trophies. While goaltender Grant Fuhr was nominated for the Vezina Trophy as the league's top netminder, as well as the Hart Trophy alongside Gretzky and eventual winner, Mario Lemieux.

Nearly everyone is in agreement that Nugent-Hopkins would have been the runaway winner as the league's top rookie, if he had stayed healthy. Unfortunately for the former Red Deer Rebel standout, he missed twenty games due to shoulder problems but still managed to finish tied for top spot among rookie scorers with fellow nominee Gabriel Landeskog, with fifty-three points a piece. Difference being, the talented Colorado Avalanche forward needed all eighty-two games to collect those points, whereas the Nuge needed only sixty-two outings. The third finalist is New Jersey Devils forward Adam Henrique, who while only one point behind the other two youngsters in the scoring race, was the beneficiary of playing much of the season alongside names such as Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise. The Devils centre was very good but was surrounded by quality veteran talent that kept from having to be one of "the go to guys" in New Jersey...not nearly the scenario that the other two had. In the end, it should be a tight vote and in my mind, it will be a coin flip between Landeskog and Nugent-Hopkins. That being said, the closer we get the more I am leaning towards RNH becoming the first Edmonton Oiler to ever win the Calder Trophy.

As far as the Lady Byng goes, it was not shocking that Eberle was one of the finalists for the award but his competition for the award was somewhat surprising. The names of Pavel Datsyuk and Loui Eriksson were the ones that were most often rumored to be the second year Oilers likely competition. Florida Panthers defenceman Brian Campbell, who had a bounce back season in Florida scoring fifty-three points while taking only six minutes in penalties on the year was one nominee, while New York Islanders winger Matt Moulson was the other. Like Campbell, the talented Isles sniper took only three minor penalties on the season while scoring thirty six goals and collecting sixty-nine points playing alongside centre John Tavares. As far as Eberle is concerned, the youngster had the best offensive output of the trio and led the Oilers in all three scoring categories with thirty-four goals, forty-two assists and seventy six points. While he did take ten minutes in penalties, Jordan was far less combative with the referee's then say teammate Taylor Hall, when there were questionable non-calls by the on ice officials. More often then not, this award has traditionally been handed out to veteran players but with Campbell being the only vet in the group and a defenceman to boot, don't be surprised to hear Jordan Eberle's name called when the winner is announced on June 20th in Las Vegas.

For a franchise that has lived on their storied history for some time, the Edmonton Oilers appear to finally be headed in the right direction. As the on ice talent has improved, they have started to gain recognition as one of the more exciting young teams in the NHL. Having two of their young star players nominated for major off season awards is no small accomplishment and some thing that both players and the organization should be extremely proud of. Having them recognized in this manner shows Edmonton is on the right tack and if either one of Jordan Eberle or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins end up bringing home some hardware, it would be the first time an Edmonton Oilers player has collected a season ending award since Mark Messier won the Hart Trophy as the league MVP back in 1990...some heady stuff indeed.

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