For the past few years, Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn performed as arguably the team’s top skater. He possesses a seldom-seen juxtaposition of natural ability and inherent leadership. Stars fans, thirsty for a return to postseason play, point to offseason free agent signings, trade acquisitions and a new logo and uniforms as reasons for optimism in the upcoming season. Yet amid the excitement, Benn stands on the verge of joining the NHL’s upper echelon of forwards. Here’s why:
- A better fit: With the arrival of Tyler Seguin and Shawn Horcoff, Benn shifts back to his natural left wing position. A dearth of talented centers thrust Benn into the role of top line pivot—a monumental task for even the most skilled youngsters. Highly touted rookies have arrived on the NHL scene and been asked to fill this role. Anyone remember Patrik Stefan and Alexandre Daigle? If you don’t, you didn’t miss much and if you do, hindsight suggests they were asked to do too much and folded under the pressure. Benn fared better, but moving back to the wing vaults him into position to evolve into the next Jarome Iginla…a rare combination of gritty power forward and dynamic scoring sniper.
- Complete scorer: Look at Benn’s stats in his first three years: his assists and point totals increased substantially. Many youngsters who dominate in the lower ranks quickly discover they can’t do it all by themselves at the NHL level. Benn has definitely titillated fans with dekes, dangles and (in the parlance of our times) sick moves, but he’s also developed into a player who can see the play before it happens, thus making him even more dangerous as he spots teammates in a better scoring position.
- Something to prove: Speaking of stats, Benn fell from a +15 in 2011-12 to a -12 last season. While last year’s lockout-abbreviated campaign deserves a mulligan, a plus/minus drop that substantial likely serves as personal motivation. A fringe player’s motivation: increase my ice time. A player of Benn’s caliber? Flip-flop that minus and leave it in the dust…after kicking and beating it into submission.
- Leadership ability: Some players lead simply by example and talent, awarded the “C” based on status and ability. Benn exudes leadership; not only due to scoring prowess, but grittiness. Benn will (and has) dropped the gloves with the likes of Iginla and Joe Thornton not because of chest puffing, but to signify a collective middle finger to the opponent. That and a penchant for big hits breed leadership status and if you disagree, ask yourself why the “C” transitioned from Mike Modano to Brendan Morrow.
Barring injury, there’s no reason Benn shouldn’t produce a monster year and contend for the Hart Trophy. Plenty of new changes excite the Stars’ fan base, but watching Jamie Benn blossom this year should prove the most exciting one of them all.