It seems that all week we've talked about how Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson were named the two most underrated players in the NHL by 179 current players from around the league. We made brief mention of it here on DBD but since then that Sports Illustrated vote has been the story that won't go away, especially after a couple of monstrous games by Eriksson and Benn after the vote was made public. That doesn't mean that a third straight day of being asked about the "underrated" tag is worthwhile, yet the local media just won't let up.
That's not exactly a bad thing, however, as the media that keeps asking these questions are the same types that are feeding news about the Stars and their big players to the casual sports fans we're so desperate to reach out to. It may be annoying to hear those same questions asked again and again, but when it's local television stations covering the Stars -- finally -- there's really not much to complain about.
For what it's worth, neither player considers being named "underrated" a bad thing, especially when you take into account how each player goes about their game. Eriksson is perhaps the most low-key player not only off the ice, but during games as well. He's not flashy, he doesn't have crazy celebrations; he just goes about his business of putting up big points game after game.
"I don't have much to say about that. We just go out there and play our game," said Benn, when asked once more about the vote. "I know Loui's been underrated for many years now. He's a great player and he shows it. For me, I don't really think much of it.
"I don't think it's a slap in the face at all," Benn continued. "I think it's a compliment. If they see me that way, then they see me that way."
Jamie Benn, for over two years now, has been tagged as the future face of this franchise. Ever since an explosive rookie season, Benn has steadily become the most dynamic player on the ice for the Stars, capable of dominating any game against any team. Yet he's one of the most low profile players off the ice, quiet and politically correct in the locker room and doesn't do much to gain attention when he's not playing.
After this week, and especially if Benn and Eriksson are named to the NHL All-Star game as expected, we shouldn't expect to hear that "underrated" term much longer.
Benn and Eriksson are both on pace for career seasons, with Benn having the ability to push Brad Richards as the only player for the Dallas Stars to break 90 points in a season in the past decade. That fact alone should propel Benn to superstar status in this town, the young phenom forward who is popular with the fans and who leads his team to wins. Yet for both players to really make some noise around the NHL -- not that they're overly concerned with this fact -- they need to lead their team into the postseason.
For that to happen, the Dallas Stars will need more of the Benn and Eriksson we've seen the past week and not the players from the November slump.
What's become most apparent over the course of the first half of this season is that the Dallas Stars are only as good as Eriksson and Benn are playing. The two forwards are putting up incredible numbers and they're making the other players around them better as well; at the same time, this has been a rollercoaster of a season for the Dallas Stars and many of their issues in November and the first week of December had to do with the slump that Benn and Eriksson endured.
Consider this: Jamie Benn has 18 points in his past 13 games. In those games the Stars are 8-5-0, with Benn going pointless in just two of those games, including the debacle of a loss against Columbus. In the previous 13 games prior those Benn had just five points and one goal, going pointless in ten games. The Stars record in those games? 4-8-1.
As Jamie Benn goes, so go the Dallas Stars. With this team just now finding some offensive balance with Loui Eriksson moving to the second line (something that is threatened for at least a game with Ribeiro out), the Stars have wholly relied on Benn to spark not only this team's offense but the entire team's performance as well.
When Benn is playing well offensively he's playing exceptional hockey in all phases of the game. What really sets Benn apart from other forwards around the NHL is his ability to play great defensively and in the neutral zone as well. He's not just hovering around the blue line waiting for the breakout pass; he's down in the trenches, digging the puck out and looking to move it up ice as well.
It's easy to also forget that Benn is still in the middle of a transition to center, after playing on the wing his entire life. Last season, likely with the Stars realizing Brad Richards was on his way out and without much depth in the system, the Stars made the decision to move their most promising player to the toughest position in hockey. While there have been bumps along the way, Benn has responded well by adjusting his game and becoming much more a playmaker than he's ever been before.
"He's a hard guy to handle for the other teams. He's a big, strong, fast power forward and no matter what guys he's playing with he's putting up numbers," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. "It's been up and down for him and he's on a roll now again. He's just learning the center position and pretty soon he's going to really take off at that position. I think the best of Jamie Benn is yet to come. I think down the stretch, you are going to see an even better guy, but certainly his game is at a high level right now."
Loui Eriksson, who has two straight seasons with 70+ points and while likely break that mark again, has been flying under the radar for much longer. Slowly coming up through the Stars system until he broke out with 36 goals in 2008-09, Eriksson made his first All-Star game last season and should have been that game's MVP. Yet once again, because what he does so well is so subtle, the public never acknowledged just how great he was.
Michael Ryder, who has played with both players for much of this season, never had much exposure to the duo before this season.
"I knew they were good players, but we didn't play them, so it's hard to get a feel," Ryder said, when asked about the vote. "But I've got to play with them on a line and realize how talented they are and how good they can be. Loui's a really good two-way player, he's smart and he never panics on the ice. He always makes the right decisions and is really good at anticipating what is going to happen. He's a very smart player. Jamie's fast, a lot of speed, a great shot and he creates a lot of offense when he uses his speed. He's really strong on the puck."
I highly doubt that Loui Eriksson will ever get the national attention he deserves. He rarely talks after games and he's not a very public figure. Combine that with his lack of flash on the ice and it's just not likely he ever gets the same amount of attention others around the NHL get for doing less, fair or not.
Jamie Benn, who is slowly starting to come out of his shell in the public eye, is going to be relied upon to not only lead this team to the postseason but to help sell the Stars to the Dallas sports fan. He'll never be a chest-thumping, superstar of a player yet it's his humble demeanor -- juxtaposed against his hard-hitting play -- that perhaps endears him the most to the fans.
"I think it's my teammates," Benn said, when asked about why he's playing so well lately. "They're the ones helping me out out there, I'm not doing it by myself. It's a team effort and it just so happens that I've had a good week."