The quest for gold and national pride at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi is getting closer for Canada. And Jamie Benn hopes to be a part of it. He deserves it.
On June 22, 2013, Hockey Canada released the roster for its Olympic orientation camp. As expected, the list was loaded with super stars and tremendous talents. The likes of Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Duncan Keith and Roberto Luongo were obvious choices to be invited. Familiar names, including others that helped lead Canada to gold in Vancouver in 2010, were also spotted throughout the list. There was not much in terms of jaw-dropping surprises.
However, there were a few omissions that raised some eyebrows. Any set of forwards that includes the likes of Crosby, Stamkos, Jonathan Toews and Patrice Bergeron is bound to leave behind a few snubs. One of the more prominent forwards left off the roster was Benn, the captain of the Dallas Stars.
Jamie Benn’s Progression
After being drafted 129th overall in 2007, Benn spent two seasons in the WHL where he tallied 79 goals and 147 points in 107 games. At the age of 20, he played his first full season with the Dallas Stars and notched 22 goals and 41 points in 82 games. His production continued to increase as he added 152 points in 181 games despite being moved from left wing to unfamiliar territory at center due to the Stars’ lack of depth down the middle of the lineup.
Benn played his way up the ranks and eventually became the face of the franchise. Electric excitement can be felt throughout the American Airlines Center when Benn touches the puck in the offensive zone. Memories of a similar feeling that Mike Modano created in Dallas quickly come to mind. In September, Benn was named the sixth captain in Dallas Stars history, filling the hole left by Brenden Morrow after Dallas traded him to Pittsburgh in April.
What Benn Brings
His vision, skills and 6-foot-2, 205-pound body make him a multi-dimensional player and a constant threat at both ends of the ice. Whether at full strength or on either set of special teams, Benn is noticeable and can take over a game seemingly at will. He also does not shy away from big games. He has yet to take part in a playoff game, but he did tally six points in six games to help lead Canada to gold in the 2009 World Junior Championships.
Benn currently leads the Stars in assists (16), shots (56) and plus/minus (+5) and is tied with new linemate Tyler Seguin for the most points on the team with 16. He ranks among the top 50 skaters in the league in goals, assists, points and shots so far this season. He has the frame to pound the opposition and the skill to dazzle them into submission. Already this season, Benn showcased both sides of his game.
His goal against the Detroit Red Wings is easily a candidate for goal of the year:
He showed the grittier aspect of his game against the Anaheim Ducks on October 20. He fought Francois Beauchemin after the Anaheim defenseman landed a crushing hit that shook up Vernon Fiddler. Benn stepped up for his teammate and showed that he is willing to lead the team in any way necessary.
This season, Benn added leadership to his repertoire. Typically quiet and reserved, the captain lets his play on the ice do the talking for him.
After a rough start to the preseason, Benn took it upon himself to carry his team to victory in the following game. Stars coach Lindy Ruff said Benn told the coaches he wanted to play in the second preseason game because he wasn’t happy with his performance in the first match. He scored a goal and took six shots in over 21 minutes of play before scoring the shootout winner in a 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers.
Making Team Canada
Executive director of Team Canada Steve Yzerman plans to have 14 forwards on the final roster. “We’ll have 14 forwards, not 14 centers,” he said. “In the past we’ve moved centers to wing, if necessary. The reality is, we will be forced to do that because we’re deep down the middle.”
Yzerman also added that there are “maybe 10 locks” so far on the roster, but about half of the team is up for grabs, which bodes well for Benn. Bergeron, Crosby and Toews are most likely three of those locks. If Stamkos’ leg can recover in time, he also gets a spot. An argument can be made to add some of the forwards that helped lead Canada to gold in 2010. The picks then get much more difficult with a mix of veterans such as Martin St. Louis and young studs like John Tavares.
Benn provides Yzerman with options since he is a natural left wing that is already acclimated to playing center. He knows the wing position well, can shoot like a scorer, pass like a playmaker and take a faceoff if needed. Benn’s career faceoff percentage is currently 46.7%, but he has been much better this season in a slightly reduced role as he has won 60% of his draws so far.
He can be physically daunting to the opposition without taking penalties and his puck control and patience can draw penalties. Again, he can play many roles. He is aggressive and smart on the forecheck, strong on defense, can kill penalties and create chances on the power play.
A Burning Motivation
The disappointment of not being invited to the orientation camp turned into motivation for Benn. He has a fire in him. He wants to show the world he can be a force to be reckoned with on the ice. He wants to represent his country. Despite new teammates, coaches and responsibilities, he is out to prove he belongs on the Team Canada roster in February.
Benn has the tools to be a solid, contributing addition in Sochi, and he has the willpower to hold his end of the bargain if selected. It is on Steve Yzerman and the brain trust behind Team Canada to give him that opportunity. Until then, he will just have to continue proving his worth.
Mohammad received his Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Texas at Arlington with a minor in English.