Coming out of training camp and pre-season it was pretty clear that the "Jamie Benn at center experiment" was not over. He had been paired with Steve Ott in training camp to great effect and that idea stuck through the exhibition games, eventually adding Tom Wandell upon his return from injury. Wandell/Benn/Ott was supposed to provide energy but more importantly scoring depth and offensive balance to what would ideally be a three line attack for the Dallas Stars.
This, of course, drew the ire of a portion of the fan base. (What doesn't draw the ire of the fan base, really?) "Jamie Benn is more valuable (offensively) on the wing!!!", they said. It turns out that for once, Marc Crawford may actually agree with you, but that doesn't mean the center experiment is over.
"We've used him on the wing with Ribeiro and Morrow when we've felt the need for a little more offense," Crawford told us last week at a morning skate.
"When he plays center he's on more of an energy line with Adam Burish and Steve Ott, and all three of those guys are very aggressive on the fore-check. They all skate relatively well. They're all guys who crash the net. They get pucks to the net and try to get second chances that way."
Jamie Benn and "energy line" isn't knocking anyone's socks off, but there's more than one reason to think we'll see that line (and perhaps others including Benn) again before too long.
In the mean time, the Ribeiro/Morrow/Benn line doesn't need the fan base to lobby for it, they're doing it just fine themselves on the ice...
A look at where Jamie Benn has had the greatest success this season after the jump...
When Benn was hit in Long Island on the second night of the Star season, he suffered concussion like symptoms and missed the next three games prompting assistant coach Stu Barnes to lobby for Benn back on the wing when he got back. Marc Crawford explained they thought it was easier for Benn to get back into the flow of things on the wing.
His season can basically be broken down into four sections as far as what line he's played on. This is currently his second stint on the Ribeiro line...
|Game||Primary ES Line||Goals||Assists||+/-|
* Started with Ribeiro but mad line scrambling had him play in this unlikely combination most of the game.
9 of his 15 points came in games when he was playing on Ribeiro's right wing. I'd include how many of those were power play points but you know how the power play's been lately. It doesn't seem productive to look it up.
He's been shuffled around a great deal "in-game" this season. These lines represent what he played the majority of the time when placed on the ice for an even strength face off. This is the best way, I feel, to get an idea of the lines Crawford wants out there and to eliminate plays that happen with partial changes.
The eye ball test tells us that Jamie Benn is surging no matter where he plays.
His play with Steve Ott in Carolina happened directly following a penalty kill and Benn, though in a 5-on-5 situation, was not out there with his typical linemates.
His shorthanded goal against the Blues happened, of course, without his usual linemates of Ribeiro and Morrow, so I wouldn't exactly call any of this conclusive, but I think the majority of Stars fans feel that Benn's usefulness on the wing in a "top six" situation greatly outweighs the center experiment.
For now I think we can say that moving Benn to Ribeiro's line is a comfortable fall back position for Marc Crawford when he feels he needs more offense, but that Benn's long term development and value to this team must not be ignored, and that longer term might mean some growing pains at center.
It is regrettable that "Brad Richards trade" possibilities have to enter into nearly every conversation we have here, but this is another one of those times when we should turn at least one eye toward the future and ask ourselves how that plays into this...
Say Brad Richards is gone. What have you seen from Tom Wandell this year that makes you think he can generate scoring opportunities for himself and others at a level that would not be a SEVERE drop off from Brad Richards? With Mike Modano gone, the center position would be rather putrid looking without Richards. This is one of many possible arguments (demands?) for continuing to hone Benn's skills at center.
Marc Crawford is certainly very high on him there: "I think he's understood every day more and more his responsibilities coming out of the zone when we don't have possession of the puck.... where his positioning needs to be. He's pretty conscientious."
Jamie Benn is a special player and he's getting better every day. For a left handed right winger, he sure is developing an interesting identity crisis between "Center" and "Right Wing." We don't care so much as long as he keeps stripping All-Star caliber defensemen of the puck and putting it home: