When Brad Richards departed the plains of North Texas for the bright lights of New York, all eyes in the Dallas Stars fan base turned directly to young phenom Jamie Benn. For two seasons Benn was able to fly under the radar a bit while making incredible plays game after game; his 22 goals as a rookie in 2009-10 were remarkable considering the 5th round draft pick made the direct jump from the CHL to the NHL.
Last season, Benn took another step in his NHL career when it was announced he'd be moved to center. For a time he was centering the third line with players like Steve Ott and Adam Burish and played incredibly well. When Richards was lost for a time with a concussion, Benn returned from his own injury to take command of the Stars and lead them on a mini-resurgence in March as they attempted to rebound from a devastating slump.
In a span of 10 games in March, Benn had eight goals and 14 points -- many of them of the highlight-reel variety. He was playing an astounding 22 minutes a game as the Stars were placed directly onto his shoulders by coach Marc Crawford, with Benn playing on three different lines per night. It was the sort of dominance we had not seen in Dallas for quite some time and it is this stretch of games that fans think of when they look to the future with Benn leading this team.
When this season began, Jamie Benn was an underrated and overlooked forward in the NHL -- left off of nearly every preseason list of the top players in the NHL. There was uncertainty as to how he would fare as the number two center on this team behind Ribeiro and even whether center was the right position for him at all (he's still listed as a left wing on the Dallas Stars site and on NHL.com).
Now, 24 games into the season, Jamie Benn is the team's leading scorer and the undeniable top line center for this hockey team. Benn is the future of this franchise and very likely will be named team captain in a few year's time.
Yet, for the Dallas Stars -- this season -- it's not enough.
Currently Jamie Benn has 23 points through 24 games, on pace for around 78 points this season. That number is certainly incredible, especially for a hockey team that has never been all about goal scoring and until Brad Richards came along generally had a leading scorer with around 78 points.
What has been frustrating, at least through the first part of the season, is how Benn has suddenly become snake-bitten in the goal scoring department. A player known for his ability to school the defense, for his speed and stick handling and for his incredibly accurate shots is on pace for just 20 goals in 82 games.
Benn through his career has averaged around 12.2% on his shots with around 180 or so shots per season. This season he's on pace for a staggering 256 shots on goal -- yet his shot percentage this season is just 8.0%. For whatever reason, he's not getting the same accuracy on his shots and it's costing Benn and the Stars goals -- last game was a great example, as a tremendous burst of speed up ice resulted in a breakaway, yet Benn was once again denied at the net. It's been a disturbing trend this season for the young center.
Perhaps it's unfair to place this amount of pressure on Benn, a 5th-round draft pick who basically came from nowhere to take hockey in Dallas by storm. In just a few short months he's taken over as the number one player on this team and along with Loui Eriksson represents the future of a hockey franchise that is trying to repair itself in too many ways to count.
Yet there is no denying that as Benn goes, so go the Dallas Stars. During that five-game losing streak starting in Pittsburgh, Benn had just one assist and was minus-2 overall. The insane pace with which he was scoring had disappeared and Benn went into a bit of a slump, something that might become a standard thing with him and has been through two seasons so far.
In the past five games the Stars are 3-1-1 and playing much better hockey, despite the injuries. In that span, Benn and Eriksson are once again dominating the ice and he's responded with four points in those games. In fact, in the game against Colorado it could be said that Benn had about as good a game as you could have without actually putting the puck on net. He hit the post several times and has been customary this season -- dominated in scoring chance differential.
The great thing about Benn is that despite his offensive prowess he's perhaps just as good defensively. The challenge this season has been that with he and Eriksson becoming the top two players on this team he's suddenly being faced with much tougher matchups than he played against his first two seasons. This year has presented a whole new set of challenges and he's worked through them admirably, yet there is still the feeling that more is needed.
The goal-scoring issue should work itself out. A player of his ability won't average 8.0% scoring on his shots for very long. Yet the Stars can ill-afford another five game slump from him because when that happens this team loses and loses badly -- Benn is the main piece for what makes this team operate and he sets the tone for how the Stars are going to play on any given night.
Benn is a special player with incredible speed, size and ability. Yet for a team like the Dallas Stars -- combined with his potential -- they're going to need even more from the 22-year old from B.C. It might not be fair and it might be too much pressure, but we've seen him do it before and we've seen what happens when Benn enters beast mode.
If the past few games are any indication, he's approaching that level of play once more -- and we should all be thankful.