When we first announced this ranking series over a month ago I doubt that any Dallas Stars fan questioned who would be at the top spot.
As we head into a season facing a bit of uncertainty, with six newcomers on the roster and a new coach behind the bench, the Stars will be turning to their best players to step up and fill the void vacated by some of the top producers on offense these past few seasons. The Stars will be approaching this season with a new outlook and a new direction and it's a season filled with talk of "the future" and looking ahead to the potential that this team and this organization possesses moving forward after several very tumultuous seasons.
One of the storylines that is going to be a constant for at least the next few months, and perhaps for the entire season, is how the Dallas Stars will attempt to move on from the departure of Brad Richards. There is an opinion that Richards was so important to this team that it's going to be impossible for the Stars to replace his production and what he meant as the team's lone "superstar" -- especially considering how the Stars have lost Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen and other fan favorites the past few years, and now another one is gone.
When we talk about "impact players", and this has been the theme throughout this series, we're talking about how a certain player has a singular impact on the team, on the game, on the season and on the franchise as a whole. The Dallas Stars have several great players on this team but none have that transcendental "star" quality that every great team needs, especially one that can be marketed by the team to the fans -- not just locally, but nationally as well. The Stars need that one player that becomes the face of this franchise, one that can help this fanbase move on from the past and look to the future with hope.
Jamie Benn, if he should realize his full potential this season, needs to be that player.
Jamie Benn is the type of player that one could put 4,000 words to the page and still not do a complete job in describing the overwhelming talent and skill he possesses. There are few like him in the NHL, a mix of size and speed who is just as good defensively as he is dangerous with the puck. A deadly wrist shot and an even better ability at one-on-one play has turned Benn into perhaps the most electrifying and dynamic offensive player the Stars have had since the heyday of Mike Modano and Brett Hull.
Last season, Benn enjoyed a breakout season after a tremendous rookie campaign. He showcased the ability to lift this team onto his shoulders at times, willing the Stars to victory with several third period pushes that gave his team an early season victory that they snatched from the jaws of defeat. His ability to be extremely dangerous on the penalty kill has suddenly become legendary and he showed much more confidence with the puck than we ever saw his first season in the NHL.
What was most impressive, however, was how he instantly became the best player on the Dallas Stars when they needed it the most. Coming off a shoulder injury that occurred in the infamous meltdown against Vancouver, Benn returned to the ice while the Stars were in freefall without Brad Richards being healthy. The Stars were plummeting down the standings and it appeared no one had an answer as to how to pull out and try to save the season.
After a bit of a shaky start his first game, Benn would go have 15 points in his next 11 games -- including eight goals in nine games. The Stars were able to right the ship as they tried to get their team healthy again and Benn was the monster on the ice that led the way. Those 15 games showed just how important Benn was to the success of the Stars and how he has the ability to completely take over not just a game -- but portions of a season.
For a few magical weeks in March, Jamie Benn was nearly unstoppable. He played in all facets of the game and was used by Marc Crawford on multiple lines. After averaging 15:00 - 17:00 minutes a game for most of his career, suddenly Benn was on the ice for 23:00 -24:00 minutes a game. It was apparent just how much potential Benn has in providing an impact when the team needs it most.
Unfortunately, Benn wasn't able to keep the pace up and faded as the season came to a close. The Stars faded along with him and the team missed out on the playoffs by two points. He had just one goal in the final 11 games of the season and it was apparent just how important his production had become to the success of the Stars.
Moving forward into this season, Benn will be asked to replicate that special performance from March -- and try to extend that into an entire year and a career. Benn's physical ability to take over and dominate a game is something that not even Brad Richards possessed and it's a trait that separates the good from the elite players in the NHL. We've seen Benn be successful at multiple positions with multiple teammates with that rare ability to make the players around him better.
What the Stars will need on the ice from Benn is more consistency on a game to game basis. The way he faded when the team needed him the most is concerning and the hope is that the added pressure this season will bring won't be enough for a player who is still very, very young and has plenty of NHL games ahead of him.
This was a guy who was an afterthought in the late rounds of the NHL draft, who was a surprise in training camp and who never needed extended time in the AHL. He's shown tremendous potential in his short career so far and now it's time to make the jump from "good" and "underrated" to become the elite hockey player we all know he can be.
More importantly, the Dallas Stars as an organization need a player like Jamie Benn again. Brenden Morrow and Mike Ribeiro are late in their careers and only Alex Goligoski has the same level of "marketability" as Benn, but defensemen aren't as sexy as high scoring, big hitting forwards. Benn is a quiet guy and he'll never set the world on fire with his off-ice persona, but fans flock to players that lay it all on the line every game and show that they'll do whatever it takes to win games.
This is who Jamie Benn is.
He's the future of this franchise and the key to the success of this season. The Stars might be a good team with Benn playing relatively mediocre hockey but if he continues to improve and realize the potential he's shown so far, there's no reason the Stars can't surprise and make a serious run at the postseason.
Dallas Stars Impact Player #3: Kari Lehtonen
Dallas Stars Impact Player #4: Mike Ribeiro
Dallas Stars Impact Player #5: Loui Eriksson
Dallas Stars Impact Player #6: Brenden Morrow
Dallas Stars Impact Player #7: Steve Ott
Dallas Stars Impact Player #9: Vernon Fiddler
Dallas Stars Impact Player #10: Michael Ryder
Dallas Stars Impact Player #11: Stephane Robidas
Dallas Stars Impact Player #12: Sheldon Souray
Dallas Stars Impact Player #13: Radek Dvorak