Early this season, before injuries and goalie issues and losing at home problems reared their ugly heads, Dallas Stars fans were pretty certain they'd have a contender for the scoring trophies coming down the stretch.
They just didn't think it would be Jamie Benn.
But after early leading scorer Tyler Seguin missed three weeks with an injury thanks to a submarine hit from Dmitry Kulikov, Benn has quietly taken over the production lead for the Stars and then some. With three points against the San Jose Sharks, Benn is now just one point back of the Art Ross Trophy, given to the leading scorer in the NHL.
After two goals and assist on Monday, Benn now has 32 goals (two off his career high of 34 set last season) to go along with a career-high 80 points, exactly a point-per-game player. He has eight points in his last four games to lead this charge, which is made more astounding when you consider he was held scoreless by the Nashville Predators.
The barrage has left him tied with Alex Ovechkin and John Tavares at 80 points, one back of Sidney Crosby's league-leading 81. Jakub Voracek is just behind the group with 79 points. Here's how all five stack up in production this season:
|Name||GP||G||A||Pts||PP pts||SH pts||GWG||Secondary Assists||Shooting %|
A few things stand out here. The first is that while Benn is the only player among the five with shorthanded goals (and indeed, is the only player among the five to regularly kill penalties), he is about 10 points back of the average of 31.5 in power play points. If the Stars power play had figured things out earlier in the season, he'd have no doubt been a beneficiary and likely be further up the list in the point race now.
Also, Ovechkin is amazing. I know there are complaints about his all-around game, but the man is the best goal scorer of our time.
Seguin, with his 37 goals and 76 points, has the better points-per-game ratio at 1.086 (an 89 point pace for 82 games), and even with his injury he sits fourth in the goal scoring race, though well back of Ovechkin's 52, and sixth in points. Seguin actually has the second highest points per game ratio in the league to Crosby's 1.095, and he also only has seven secondary assists.
It's also notable that Benn is the only player from the Western Conference on this list. The east is generally considered to be an easier conference to score in and favor a more run-and-gun style, so Benn being able to break into this group is significant. After Seguin, the next closest Western Conference players are Daniel Sedin and Jiri Hudler, who are tied for eighth with 72 points.
It should be noted that Patrick Kane was averaging 1.05 points per game with the Chicago Blackhawks before going down with a broken collarbone. The Florida Panthers might not make the playoffs, and they might be led by a guy with 52 points, but they are all over the scoring races this year.
With the Art Ross race coming down to the wire, and now with the extra participant in Benn, here's how the last part of the schedule stacks up for those involved.
- Crosby - 3 games remaining (Tuesday at Senators, Friday vs. Islanders, Saturday at Sabres)
- Ovechkin - 2 games remaining (Wednesday vs. Bruins, Saturday vs. Rangers)
- Tavares - 3 games remaining (Tuesday at Flyers, Friday at Penguins, Saturday vs. Blue Jackets)
- Benn - 2 games remaining (Wednesday at Anaheim, Saturday vs. Nashville)
- Voracek - 3 games remaining (Tuesday vs. Islanders, Thursday vs. Hurricanes, Saturday vs. Senators)
The Penguins are still not yet secure in their playoff position, which means Crosby is probably the likely candidate at this point (and playing the Sabres in the final game certainly helps). The Capitals have clinched a playoff berth and while the Islanders haven't quite yet, they are all but assured of one barring a collapse. The Flyers, like the Stars, have been eliminated.
Will having playoff berths clinched mean players like Tavares and Ovechkin get some rest (or at least reduced minutes) in the final games? It's possible. Still, if the points race is still this close, you'd expect the coaching staffs to give their elite players every chance to win it.
Crosby's rest situation is more interesting. He'd generally be a key candidate as much as he gets beat up by defensemen, and there's nothing to prove in a final game against Buffalo. But whether or not the Penguins decide to rest their best player likely comes down to if they can get ahead of the Ottawa Senators for good over the next few games, as well as the health of other forwards like Evgeni Malkin.
Just for fun, let's take a look at Benn's six years in the NHL to see his progression to this point:
Not bad for the the only non top-10 draft pick in the top seven NHL scorers. Not bad at all.