|Oilers forwards Jordan Eberle and Ryan-Nugent Hopkins pose at the Wynn Las Vegas Resort in Las Vegas, Nev., June 20, 2012. (HARRY HOW/Getty Images/AFP)
LAS VEGAS - Jordan Eberle admits to being slightly disappointed -- and slightly relieved -- that he didn't win the Lady Byng on Wednesday night.
It would have been a fantastic accomplishment for the young Edmonton sniper, but it also would have meant delivering a live acceptance speech on national TV, which ranks up there with delivering a kidney stone on national TV.
"To be at such and young age and only in my second year, it was just an honour to be nominated," said Eberle, who had 30 goals and 10 penalty minutes this year. "To be the second youngest (nominee) since Paul Kariya is quite the honour."
And not having to take the stage was a bit of a relief.
"I was probably more nervous to go up there and give a speech," he joked. "The NHL should adopt some sort of public speaking program. I think there were a few guys who were nervous up there, too.
"But I definitely had the refs as my people to thank first, for not giving me any penalties."
One place Eberle never seemed the least bit rattled was on the ice. He didn't set out to win the Lady Byng (which desperately needs a new name), but made a strong case for it down the stretch, going 31 games without a penalty and finishing the year with a team-leading 76 points.
"It's just kind of how it turned out," he said. "I happened to be in the running at the end of the season. It's not something I really focused on.
"You want to play the game with a little bit of an edge and go to the tough areas. If you end up taking a penalty it's part of the game. But there's a positive to being on the right side of the puck and doing the right things. That's what this award kind of means to me."
The evening caps a year to remember for the 22-year-old, which isn't always easy on a team that finished 29th.
"It's been a whirlwind season. At the start of the year, coming in with expectations of improving on my rookie season. Before I know it I'm in the All-Star Game and a few months later at the NHL awards and at the World Championships. The year has definitely gone by quick and I definitely want to build on it next year."
Hearing Eberle talk about rubbing shoulders with the current greats of the game gives you some idea how the culture of the organization is slowly changing.
"It definitely makes you hungry, being here with some of the best players in the game, guys who are winning the Hart Trophy and Rocket Richards," he said. "That's where you want to be one day. You kind of get a taste for it (winning awards) and you get a little more hungry.
"That's something I'm working towards and if I can pull something like that off, it will give our team a good chance to win."
When's the last time an Oiler spoke like that? And meant it? And looked like he might be able to make good on it?
Edmonton's other nominee for future greatness, and a current award, kind of had a feeling it wasn't going to be his night.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins knew the shoulder injury that cost him 20 games cost him the Calder Trophy.
Winner Gabriel Landeskog admitted as much in his acceptance speech, saying a healthy Nugent-Hopkins would have run away with rookie of the year honours.
"He's just trying to be humble, that's just the kind of guy he is," said Nugent-Hopkins, who had as many points in 62 games as the Avs rookie had in 82. "I'm pretty good friends with him, he's a great guy and he deserved it.
"It definitely would have been cool (to win), but it was pretty cool to be nominated and just being named one of the top rookies is an honour for me.
"It was definitely a cool experience to go through everything I did this week."
And this year.
For a guy who many thought wasn't big enough to even play in the NHL, there were times when Nugent-Hopkins was the best player on the ice.
"I think as the season went on I started to feel more comfortable out there," said the 19-year-old, who was named to the league's All-Rookie team. "Like I was an NHLer."
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