With the Dallas Stars fully entrenched in preseason play, the team is picking up some new fans along the way. While long-time fans pride themselves on following the Stars’ captain through his early and current professional career, newer fans haven’t heard the story of Jamie Benn’s rise to the top.
The 2015 Art Ross Trophy winner hit a few bumps on his path to the NHL, and these six fun facts reveal the stories behind his success today.
1. Chosen Late in the NHL Entry Draft
Generally, fifth round picks aren’t expected to make it in the NHL. No one expects a late-round draft pick to win a franchise its first Art Ross Trophy. After all, many late-round picks end their careers as AHL lifers. Fortunately, in Benn’s case, scouting is not a precise science. It turns out that most scouts visiting his hometown of Victoria, British Columbia missed something just below the surface.
Thanks to Stars scout, Dennis Holland, Benn found an opportunity to play in Dallas and embraced it early in his career. When Benn tore up the BCHL in 2006, his play didn’t initially garner much attention from other scouts watching the Junior “A” league.
As is the trend in Benn’s career, he wasn’t invited to the Junior “A” Challenge, or the CJAHL Top Prospects game, where young players gain greater visibility. Overall, his athleticism was interdisciplinary, leaving him moderately equipped to play both baseball and hockey, rather than preparing him solely for on-ice stardom. What Benn lacked in physical conditioning, however, he made up for in stick handling and vision.
This poor hockey conditioning was evident in Benn’s game, and didn’t bode well for his determination on ice. The Red Line Report described Benn’s style in their draft report with an honest evaluation that elicits chuckles from Stars fans eight years later.
“We’re not sure if he’s really that slow, or he just refuses to move.” – per The Red Line Report
Fortunately for the Dallas Stars, Holland saw Benn’s strengths, and the team chose him in the fifth round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. The future Star was strong on the puck, and read the game well. When Benn ultimately finished a 52-game season with 42 goals and 23 assists in Victoria, he sealed his fate with the NHL.
2. Initially Snubbed for the 2014 Olympics
In 2013, the Canadian National Team left Benn off their list of 47 invitees for summer orientation in Calgary. When management named their roster for the men’s Olympic team in January 2014 however, Benn made the list. As one of only two players to make the roster without an orientation invitation, Benn made an irreplaceable impact that changed the outcome for Canada.
Starting his Olympic career on the fourth line, Benn worked his way to the top line by Canada’s third game. In Canada’s first win over Norway, Benn drew a penalty that helped the team score their first goal. Later, he found an opportunity to score the team’s second goal in a 3-1 win. By the time Canada reached the semi-final versus the United States, Benn led Canada to victory, scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 win.
3. Looked up to Joe Sakic as a Kid
Growing up, Benn looked to Joe Sakic as an example in the big league. Of all the NHL players to set a standard in the early ’00s, Sakic served as a respectable role model.
“Joe Sakic was the player I watched and I wanted to be growing up. He was the guy I watched all the time.” – Jamie Benn, per The Dallas Morning News
The former Nordique and Avalanche captain earned a Hart Trophy (as his team’s MVP), Lester B. Pearson Award (predecessor to the Ted Lindsay Award for Most Outstanding player), and a Lady Byng for his sportsmanship in 2001. As captain of the Stanley Cup-winning Avalanche, Sakic handed the Cup over to 22-year veteran, Ray Bourque, before taking his own lap as a champion. All in all, Sakic provided an incomparable paradigm of dedication on which youngsters like Benn built both their play and leadership.
4. Nominated for the Ted Lindsay Award
Along with the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin and Canadiens’ Carey Price, the National Hockey League Players’ Association nominated Benn as a 2015 Ted Lindsay candidate. The Lindsay award is the only one voted on by the players, making Benn’s nomination for “Most Outstanding Player” speak volumes about his reputation around the league.
From his teammates in Dallas, to his teammates on the Canadian National Team, players around the league respect his tenacity. Fellow Canadian Olympic champion, Sidney Crosby, described Benn as the league’s most underrated player to Sports Illustrated. Citing Benn’s two-way play, size, strength and toughness, Crosby painted Benn in the same light as Stars Assistant General Manager, Les Jackson.
“He’s always had that ability to push himself even harder, and that’s one of the things that you love about Jamie” – Les Jackson, per Mike Heika of The Dallas Morning News
5. Named Captain at Age 24
When Jim Nill chose Benn as the Stars’ captain in September 2013, many asked if Benn was ready for the challenge. Indeed, it was just the push he needed to take his role with the Stars to the next level. In many ways, Benn is a players’ player. While fans see his face on billboards outside the American Airlines Center, the camera-shy captain who is known for his sports clichés isn’t flashy. Instead, he lets his play speak for itself.
Enter Tyler Seguin. When the Stars traded for Boston’s roguish, Stanley Cup-winning troublemaker, the bond between the Seguin and Benn was just a twinkle in Nill’s eye. At the right time, Seguin and Benn played as two halves of a whole. Both represented the captaincy in fitting ways; one, the face, and the other, the heart.
6. Consistently Increases His Scoring Total Each Season
It’s not enough to say that Benn is the Art Ross Trophy winner. While the team rallied around their captain in the dying minutes of the 2014-15 season to win their teammate the trophy, Benn put great pressure on himself to take his team to the playoffs. His scoring title is no fluke. Whether or not he had won the Art Ross, Benn still managed to steadily increase his scoring with each NHL season since 2009. Across six years, Benn successively beat his own scoring records, posting 41, 56, 63, 33*, 79, and 87 points in each season from 2009 to 2015.
*Please note that Benn posted a lower point total during the abbreviated 2012 season due to the lockout.
Sure, this list is billed as “fun facts,” but every story has a hidden lesson. The moral of this story is that the Stars’ captain steps up when challenged. The current Art Ross champion has always had a large, unyielding task ahead of him. As the leading scorer in the league, and a team leader chosen at a young age, Benn has his eye on the real prize. The individual glory of winning the scoring title isn’t the goal that consumes every child’s dreams.
Benn has the opportunity to lead a growing team to the playoffs and, for now, fans and the media are casting doubt following a rough 2014-15 season. Of course, judging Benn’s history, this doubt is just what he needs to drive his team beyond preseason expectations. The Stars had a mere taste of playoff hockey in 2014 following a drought, and those who know Benn’s history should assume he developed a craving for it.