Jamie Benn is one of my favourite hockey players, and that is something I have made no secret about. Benn is a well-rounded player, and his play looks even better when placed under the advanced stats microscope. 'Old school' hockey fans also love Benn's combination of skill and toughness (just ask Iginla).
There isn't a whole lot that Benn can't do. If he played in Vancouver, Toronto, or Philadelphia, he would have officially arrived as an elite NHL player a year or two ago. But because he plays in Dallas, a team and organization finally on the upswing after years of futility, it has taken a little while for Benn to become a household name.
But his days of flying under the radar are over. A natural winger, Benn's conversion to center has gone about as smoothly as possible. He's a good skater. The puck sticks to him like a magnet. He is nearly impossible to knock off the puck once he has it. He hits, he isn't afraid to drop the gloves to provide a spark for his team, and he has one of the heaviest wrist shots in the NHL.
I could count the number of NHL players I'd take over Benn on two hands. And if he keeps progressing at this rate, I may have to drop one of those hands. Benn ranked 22nd on my top 50 NHL players list from last summer, but I would have no issue with him moving up five or 10 slots already (his reasonable contract extension definitely helps).
"It certainly got us all off of our feet. He has a passion to win and it sparked us for sure. There’s our young bull going out there and getting things going and I thought it gave our team some energy. We need to do whatever we can to manufacture stuff and I thought Benny picked a good opportunity and certainly a good opponent to get us going."
Benn isn't paid $5 million to fight, but it is a skill that not many elite forwards have. Being able to not only stand up for himself, but to intimidate the opposition is another tool in Benn's arsenal. He isn't a vocal guy and probably won't ever be a vocal leader, but plenty of NHL greats have been fantastic leaders without being the vocal types (Joe Sakic and Nicklas Lidstrom both jump to mind immediately).
Benn has scored some fantastic goals in his NHL career to date. The ridiculous tally against Columbus last season was probably his nicest so far, but a recent effort against the Canucks wasn't far behind. The goal itself is a microcosm for what makes Benn so good - he dominates with his skill, size, and puck protection abilities, and he finishes the play off with a lethal wrister.
Time for a frame-by-frame breakdown.
Less than 30 seconds into the game. Vancouver has their top defensive pairing of Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis out against Benn and the Dallas top line. Bieksa and Hamhuis have been one of the best two-way pairings in the league over the past two or three years, which makes the next 20 seconds all the more impressive. Benn grabs the puck off of a failed clearing attempt, which explains all of the open ice around him.
Bieksa makes a pretty feeble attempt at checking Benn as he enters the slot. Zack Kassian, a right winger, attemps to apply pressure from the side. Benn makes a great move to shield the puck and use his body to deflect Bieksa's stick away.
Hamhuis slides in front of Benn in order to prevent a pass to Jaromir Jagr, who has been silently lurking beside the net. Kassian and Bieksa are in pursuit.
Benn continues to maintain control of the puck even though he has three Canucks surrounding him. Chris Higgins, a very good defensive forward, has joined in pursuit and tries to push Benn off of the puck. Hamhuis was in great position to block the pass... but it was never delivered.
This picture captures Benn's great play beside the net. He shakes Kassian (who you can't really see), and instead of continuing on behind the net, he quickly cuts back, gets the puck on his forehand, looks at the net, and picks a target.
Benn scores. He puts the puck over Cory Schneider's shoulders and below the crossbar - there was probably a three or four inch gap at the most.
Seriously. Look how little room there is above Schneider. Ridiculous.
Physics be damned.
And some credit on the goal has to go to Aaron Rome, who made a great play to hold the line.
Count 'em - one Canuck, two Canuck, three, Canuck, four.
Here is where 95% of hockey players would either go back to the point or continue into the corner.
This goal, as mentioned above, is a great example of why Benn is such a special player. He combines so many elements that make him such a dangerous offensive player. He isn't the biggest player in the NHL, or the fastest, but he has that "it" factor that all great players do. The puck protection, the awareness and instincts to know when to shoot it, the ability to make plays in traffic - he really is the total package.
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