April 23 2012 10:57AM
In a game that lends itself to a pre-occupation with size, intimidation and brawn, Jordan Eberle of the Edmonton Oilers serves as a reminder hockey IQ and the ability to think the game matters.
Coming off a sophomore season in which he scored 34-42-76, Eberle is already a terrific player by any standard. As of today, and as expected, he's a finalist for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy -- awarded to the player judged to have exhibited sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct and a high standard of playing ability -- with Brian Campbell of the Florida Panthers and Matt Moulson of the New York Islanders.
At just 21, Eberle is trying to become the youngest player to win the Lady Byng since Paul Kariya did it in 1996. If Eberle wins it, he'll join Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri as Oilers to earn the award, which is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. The release from the NHL is here.
With just 10 penalty minutes in the 78 games he played and a 33-point increase over his rookie season in the books, the five-foot-11, 185-pound Eberle is proof positive skill, speed and hockey smarts, like size, matters.
NO CONSOLATION PRIZE
The Lady Byng, frankly, gets a bad rap where NHL awards are concerned. It's perceived by some as a consolation prize or a secondary award reserved for soft, perimeter players who put up points but don't really compete the way robust bangers and net-crashers do.
That's wrong on both counts, of course. Byng candidates compete every bit as hard as their more robust teammates do, they just put a premium on using brains over brawn and they do it within the rules. Eberle, as well as Moulson and Campbell for that matter, are the epitome of that. Gentlemanly conduct sounds so, well, you know . . . These are smart players who think the game.
With past winners like Martin St. Louis, Pavel Datsyuk, Alexander Mogilny, Ron Francis, Joe Sakic, Gretzky and Kariya, Eberle has an opportunity to join an exclusive fraternity of hockey brains. A group of players you'd do pretty well with if you were starting a franchise.
In a sense, that's exactly what the Oilers are trying to do now as they rebuild in an attempt to return to contention. If the Oilers are going to pull it off, it'll take skill, size, depth, determination and the right mix and balance of talents to make it happen. First and foremost, it'll take players who think the game like Eberle does.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.