Nathan MacKinnon’s Lady Byng nomination impresses former Avalanche teammate Ryan O’Reilly

Dec 14, 2018; St. Louis, MO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) faces off against St. Louis Blues center Ryan O'Reilly (90) during overtime at Enterprise Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The last time an Avalanche player won the Lady Byng Trophy was in 2013-14 when Ryan O’Reilly finished the season with two penalty minutes (PIM) in 80 games.

The award, given to the player “adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability,” is often given to a star forward that records a lot of points and minimal PIM’s.

Superstar center and first-time Lady Byng nominee Nathan MacKinnon’s 93 points in 2019-20 led the Avalanche in scoring for the fourth consecutive season. But this year the 24-year-old did it while spending little time in the penalty box. His 12 PIM’s were the lowest in his seven-year career and just two more than O’Reilly and four greater than the third finalist announced Thursday, Auston Matthews.

While O’Reilly and Matthews have consistently had low PIM totals on a yearly basis, MacKinnon made it a priority this year to stay out of the box. The feat may not come as a surprise to him, but for a former teammate that has seen the intensity MacKinnon plays with, it was both surprising and worthy of a chuckle.

“I was a little surprised to see his penalty minutes this year,” O’Reilly said with a smirk on a Zoom call. “Playing with him, sometimes you could see he gets a little mad. I was very impressed with him with having that few and being that disciplined he’s definitely come a long way.”

Now with the St. Louis Blues, O’Reilly — the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner — says he always knew MacKinnon would be a special player.

“The first time I ever skated with him it was just, you could just see there was something that was different than most guys in the NHL,” O’Reilly said of his former teammate, who was absent from the call. “His control, what he could do at the speed he’s at. It was so impressive.”

O’Reilly and MacKinnon were both a part of the surprising 2013-14 Avalanche team that rolled through the regular season, winning 52 games, before falling in overtime of Game 7 in the first round against Minnesota.

While O’Reilly won the Lady Byng that season, MacKinnon was named the Calder Trophy winner as the NHL’s rookie of the year. And ever since then he has elevated his game to be one of the best in the NHL. MacKinnon was nominated for the Ted Lindsay Award on Tuesday and is in contention for the Hart Trophy, which will be announced Tuesday.

“It’s great seeing how hard he’s worked to just keep growing his game and getting better and better as he’s progressed along these past years to being one of, if not the most dominant player in the game,” O’Reilly said. “It’s definitely very impressive but he’s a guy that worked for it.”

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