The Dallas Stars' Jamie Benn averaged about three seconds of penalty kill time per game in his rookie season, which is to say: He didn't kill penalties. In fact he played about four cumulative short-handed minutes all season long, but as with Mike Modano's power play minutes, someone must absorb over two minutes of SHTOI/G that Jere Lehtinen was logging last season. Enter Jamie Benn?
Benn's highlight-reel assist on Steve Ott's short handed goal Saturday night is likely the first of many for the 21 year old NHL sophomore if his PK minutes continue to rise. He's averaging 1:12 SHTOI/G this season and efforts like that will increase this number as his competency and confidence rise, not to mention the trust of his coach.
Jamie has had a bit of a weird season already and the Stars have only played ten games. He started the year on a line with Wandell and Ott, playing center, before nearly getting concussed against the Islanders in the teams second game of the season. He missed three games with "concussion like symptoms" and returned with a vengeance in Florida on the wing, helping his line to three goals.
Since then he's played center, and back to wing. He's seen his PP and PK time increase. He's played on Ribeiro's line with Morrow while also finding great chemistry with Steve Ott and Tom Wandell. He has done everything asked of him in many different situations, and he's been physical and assertive, all while trying to come back from a concussion and he's shown no apprehension or hesitance in doing so.
In short, he's Jamie Benn. 21-year old hockey phenom extraordinaire and he'll play well wherever you put him, evidently.
The penalty killing, however, could really take his game to an elite level...
(see the video after the jump)
We knew Jamie Benn would get the PP time when Modano left. We had no idea he'd be converted into a penalty killer in the wake of Jere Lehtinen's pseudo-retirement. He managed 41 points in his rookie season but was a -1 on the year and not considered to be a great defensive player. That's par for the NHL course when you're a rookie. The scoring comes but the defensive maturity often lags behind.
Just ask Mike Modano.
The game is littered with offensively gifted talents but the true super stars have no weaknesses in their game in all three zones. The saying goes that you can teach a scorer to defend but you can't teach a spare part to be offensively gifted. Mike Modano faced this under the tutelage of Ken Hitchcock and was much better for it. It probably extended his career a great deal, not to mention making him one of the best all around players in the game at a time when the "clutching and grabbing" was at an all time high.
By potentially getting an early jump on rounding out his game, Benn can achieve an elite level that is the envy of hockey fandom everywhere, but only if this penaltykilling experiment is successful.
Granted, this post is likely an overreaction to a single extraordinary short-handed goal against the Sabres on Saturday night, but think of the possibilities...
(Apologies for the weirdness of the video, but the NHL.com video doesn't capture the ENTIRE effort like this one does.)
That was Tyler Myers he robbed twice, by the way. Not...Darius Kasparaitis.
A good target for which to shoot for is the example set by the Chicago Blackhawks. They led the league with 13 short handed goals last season and they were scored by the Hossa's of the world. Sharp. Versteeg. Kane. Toews. Stretch it into the post-season last year: Sharp, Kane and Bolland (2) all scored short handed goals. Having threats out there on the PK is a luxury the Stars could do with having. When big guns commit to defense it sets an example the whole team can follow.
Jamie Benn is the kind of young, malleable talent the Stars obviously feel they can mold into what they want. He had never played center in his life before last year and he took to that pretty well. Now he switches back and forth with relative ease (for a 21 year old sophomore). His PP minutes are up, his PK minutes are up and his overall TOI is up... but it can go higher.
At 14:42 total per game last season he was 16th on the team. Not bad for a rookie. This year he's up to 15:26 but that number will likely rise. His injury has been a factor and they've tried to be careful bringing him back. Before the Buffalo game had averaged almost 17:00 a game in the previous three.
1:12 SHTOI/G might not look like an impressive stat but it could very well be the start of something dangerous. There will be accidents and the proverbial bruise along the way but if the Stars are to build something for the long term, converting players like Burish and Benn into NHL penalty killers can only help the cause.
My only other question is: When do the James Neal penalty killing lessons start?