Jamie Benn has been the face of the Dallas Stars for many years. Before he was named the sixth captain in franchise history in 2013, he was a young power forward with loads of potential and skill. Since then, he has gone through the best and worst statistical seasons of his career. From the high-flying seasons playing alongside Tyler Seguin to the more defensive structure we have grown accustomed to lately, Benn has found a way to impose himself on every game.
Although he offers much more on and off the ice, Benn needs to produce offensively this season. With many key players returning from injury, big additions in free agency, and important contracts coming to an end next summer, this is a vital season for Benn and the Stars.
Benn’s Most Productive Years
The captain’s most productive seasons were also the team’s most productive. In 2014-15, Benn won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s regular-season points leader with 87. Although the Stars missed the playoffs, the boost in confidence led to a new career-high of 89 points the following season. After a down season in 2016-17, he returned to form with 79 points in 2017-18.
The highlight of these seasons was the dangerous Benn and Seguin tandem on the top line. They had instant chemistry after Seguin was traded from the Boston Bruins in 2013 and continued for many years. The two dominated opponents, scoring highlight-reel goals nearly every night. It helped that Benn stayed relatively healthy, playing all 82 games in three of the four seasons from 2014 to 2018.
Role Change & Stars Team Structure
The high-flying Stars are a thing of the past. After Jim Montgomery took over the bench in 2018, Dallas has become one of the best defensive teams in the league. While that naturally led to a decline in offensive production, their stats are much lower than expected. Over the past few seasons, the team has struggled to score goals, which has cost them in both the regular season and playoffs. After scoring 267 goals in 2015-16, they tallied only 210 in 2018-19. Despite the significant drop in offense, they made up for it by finishing in the top five in goals against nearly every season.
To become one of the best defensive teams, the Stars needed their captain to play a more defensive role. With that came a drop in offensive production for Benn. First, he tallied only 53 points in 78 games in 2018-19, 26 fewer than the previous season. It got worse from there as he finished with 39 points in 69 games in 2019-20. At 31, it seemed that his offensive days were behind him.
‘Beast Mode’ Benn
The Stars would not have made it to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final without the re-emergence of their captain. In 27 playoff games, Benn scored eight goals and 11 assists. His stellar performance began on day one in the bubble when he was quoted as saying, “We plan on staying here a while,” which circulated through the media. He led by example throughout and used the bubble to his advantage, spending time with his teammates, building the camaraderie needed to win a championship. No matter how the regular season plays out, the team receives the best from Benn in the playoffs.
After struggling to start the 2020-21 season and the many injuries to their forward group, the coaching staff decided to switch Benn from left wing to center. At center, he was a different player; he controlled the play, touched the puck more, and got involved in every aspect of the game. He also found his stride offensively, finishing with 19 points and a plus-13 rating over the last 23 games of the season. The highlight was watching him score four points, including the game-winning overtime goal, against the Carolina Hurricanes on April 26.
“I look at it as playing the same way as far as skating or physical play. I feel like I can control the game more — a little better through the middle and touch the puck a little more. I think I’m going to start there next year and then I’ll just try to keep improving at the position.”– Stars captain Jamie Benn
2021-22 Outlook for Benn & Stars
Heading into this season, Benn’s spot in the lineup is still unknown. Head coach Rick Bowness has said that he would like to keep Benn at center, but with a deep forward group, he could play anywhere in the top three lines. He will most likely land on the second line with Seguin and Alexander Radulov or the third line with Denis Gurianov and Joel Kiviranta. It should be a tremendous boost that the Stars finally have the depth to experiment and find the best combinations for their forwards.
No matter where he slots in, Benn will be asked to play his usual physical power forward role, but he needs to find more offensive production to go with it. If he can continue the pace set at the end of last season, the Stars will be a very difficult team to beat. If he struggles, they will need other players to step up, like Seguin and Joe Pavelski or youngsters Roope Hintz and Jason Robertson. While it is not the only factor, the Stars’ season will largely be determined by the success of their captain. This team will go as far as Jamie Benn will take them.
Sam Nestler is a Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the NHL and NCAA. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!