When we write about how far Jamie Benn has come, we're usually talking about his play on the ice.
After all, the Dallas Stars captain and 2014-15 Art Ross Trophy winner started his career as one of those marginal prospects deep in the draft, so far down the radar of some scouts that the line "We’re not sure if he’s really that slow, or he just refuses to move" was written about him by the Red Line Report as they scouted the 2007 class.
But we might as well be talking about his public speaking skills. And that's exactly what made the Art Ross Trophy presentation at Wednesday's NHL Awards ceremony so perfect.
For those of you who didn't see it, here's the video:
A few on social media were offended on Benn's behalf. After all, this is the man who put together a four-point game against a playoff-bound opponent, missing linemate and partner in offensive crime Tyler Seguin no less, to win the Art Ross in the final seconds of the regular season. Why insult him by acting like he's going to get to make an acceptance speech and then taking that opportunity away?
Without context, it's a fair complaint. But the media members who work with him regularly, and even those who only see him once in a while, got the joke even though the presentation didn't set it up well for a wider audience.
I bet Jamie Benn was happy with the length of that interview.— Mark Stepneski (@StarsInsideEdge) June 25, 2015
Haha... my guess is that's what Jamie Benn actually wanted.— James Mirtle (@mirtle) June 25, 2015
Yes, Benn was the butt of a little joke. But he was in on that joke, and that makes all the difference. You can tell from his demeanor at the microphone, the smile he gives right after and the way he hustles himself off-stage. Heck, the Stars even got in on the joke with this Tweet right after.
It was a bit, as the guys at The Ticket would say, and a pretty funny one at that. But since some apparently aren't clear on that, it's time to do exactly what they say you shouldn't and explain the joke.
Benn, friendly and funny in person, is famously stilted and soft-spoken in front of the media, especially on camera. He's improved markedly over the years but still is the type of player who would much rather let his play do the talking.
As evidence of both that awkwardness and the marked improvement, we'll introduce a few pieces of video, starting with an interview from late in his rookie season (with fabulous spikey hair) after a loss to the then-Phoenix Coyotes. He's obviously willing, but none of the answers are more than three sentences long, and they go through five questions in just about 90 seconds.
The soft-spoken nature wasn't just evident after losses. Here he is later that spring when he was rampaging through the AHL playoffs with the Texas Stars, on his way to 26 points in 24 games. The team had just defeated the Hamilton Bulldogs 2-1 in the conference finals, but the sotto voice and short answers to questions remain a staple.
Benn definitely got better with time, especially in the locker room scrums. But he remained less comfortable making speeches in front of crowds.
When he was named team captain in the fall of 2013, Benn was part of a press conference with new general manager Jim Nill and new coach Lindy Ruff. He has his introductory speech written out on a piece of paper, and he keeps going back to that rather than feeling comfortable speaking off the cuff.
It's that video more than any other that shows why Wednesday's Art Ross presentation was perfect.
As much as Benn has grown as a hockey player, a captain, a team representative and a person, public speaking is clearly not something he enjoys, nor is it something he's particularly skilled at. So why not make light of that fact? As someone who knew the Art Ross was his back in April, he's had plenty of time to thank all of the relevant individuals in person - no one was left out because of his bit.
It also plays to a philosophy of fun that the Stars really embrace. Yes, they are serious about winning - it's their job. But professional sports is also a bunch of grown adults playing children's games, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with recognizing that and embracing the light-hearted side of things sometimes. We see it with the Stars snarky Jumbotron, with their music selections, and with their social media. They really do embrace the philosophy that it's a lot more fun when everything isn't serious business the whole time.
Sports are so much more enjoyably when we can all remember to have a little fun here, and that's exactly what Benn did last night.