As the number of Jamie Benn jerseys on the American Airlines Center concourse swells and the youngster earns a place in the hearts of more Stars fans with each passing game, Marc Crawford is looking for his place in the lineup.
The short answer, since the 21 year old returned from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for 10 games, is "everywhere". His dominance has demanded copious amounts of ice time and he's plied his craft with as many line ups as possible, but he cannot continue to play 24 minutes a night and carry team on his back indefinitely. He needs a home, both for the rest of this season and the long term, and he may have found it with the same line that helped him break into the NHL.
The assumption from many Stars fans when Brad Richards came back was that with James Neal in Pittsburgh, Jamie Benn would take his rightful place on Richards left with Eriksson on the other side and that there, at his natural left wing, the phenom would dominate.
Marc Crawford has thought otherwise, and the last two games against the Sharks and Blackhawks have seen Jamie play consistently with nearly just the one line at even strength: Brenden Morrow- Mike Ribeiro- Jamie Benn.
There he has recorded 12 shots on goal, 2 goals and 3 assists. More importantly his minutes have come down to a more reasonable level lately while his impact and influence on the game have not diminished. He played just a shade under 20 minutes last night against Chicago, most of which was straight up against the Toews line.
What's more, his minute distribution has been more favorable lately. He played just over three minutes of power play time (better than his 2:17 PPTOI/G average) and still had enough PK time (2:17) to show of what is quickly becoming his signature area of impact. (Or as you all call the PK in the GDT, "A Jamie Benn Power Play"). Add that to 14 minutes of even strength time and you've got a nice balance of Benn being able to exercise his will on all facets of the game without having to spend 24+ minutes on the ice. (Winning by 5 helps too, of course)
The Ticket Post Game Show pointed out last night that Brad Richards can make things happen with whoever he's paired with. Just ask Brandon Segal and Steve Ott about last night. Loui Eriksson will return and play with Brad, but if you can place Jamie Benn on a different line you spread the threat out a bit and force the defense to choose.
If Brad Richards can't be re-signed in Dallas in the off-season then the thought process for next year becomes a little more clouded. Then you're probably back to Ribs/Morrow and someone, and then Benn/Eriksson and someone and you hope to find scoring depth that way. We'll worry about that when the time comes.
For now Morrow/Ribeiro/Benn looks to be the "number one" line for the immediate future, even if these days that only means the very next shift.
Where do you want to see Benn land eventually?