He scored quite possibly the most important goal of the 2014 Olympics. He's the captain of an NHL team, on the threshold of stardom. And yet, you still might not have heard of Jamie Benn.
There's no need to apologize. No player since Mike Modano has possessed this much overall talent with the Dallas Stars, a team in a hockey market that needs the likes of a great to draw national attention. But Benn is quietly climbing the ranks of NHL scorers -- top 20 in the league in goals, assists, and points, and poised to shatter all of his career-highs in those categories. He's 24-years-old, and only getting better.
It was just July when Benn was left completely off Hockey Canada's orientation roster for the Olympics. Over the course of five months -- really two-plus months of NHL play -- he did more than enough to convince the Canadian brass he deserved to be Sochi-bound. Then he proved them right.
What's led to Benn's meteoric rise this season?
Benn's tenure in Dallas has been marked by mediocre Stars teams without too much talent top-to-bottom. Dallas last made the playoffs in Benn's draft year of 2007, and have failed to reach the postseason since he cracked the NHL in 2009. Benn spent his most time in last year's lockout-shortened season with Jaromir Jagr (who was eventually traded) and Loui Eriksson, according to Hockey Analysis. The year before, he mostly skated with Steve Ott and Michael Ryder.
This season, the trio of Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Valeri Nichushkin has been extremely effective. Seguin and Nichushkin sport a 54.4 and 54.0 percent shot attempt percentage when on the ice with Benn. And in both players, Benn has found a better fit in terms of skaters able to keep up with him, playing a transition, uptempo style.
Benn and Seguin have also been finding each other in scoring areas all season, and the assist numbers have piled up.
It's not like he was ever paired with fringe NHL players. Jagr is an all-time great, and Benn spent years past with guys like Mike Ribeiro and Brendan Morrow playing by his side. But Seguin and Nichushkin seem to be the best fit yet, at least when judging things from a production standpoint.
Sure, Benn may be improving, but it's conveniently occurring with two new players by his side.
What really makes Benn a special talent is his blend of size, speed, and skill. At 6'2, 210 pounds, Benn is able to play a bruising brand of hockey. But for a player of his size to possess his skating ability and hands is what truly makes him a dangerous player from anywhere on the ice. This year in particular, Benn has found success taking advantage of the combination of size and speed playing a more north-south game.
Below is a shorthanded goal Benn scored in late February against the Hurricanes. Its his specific skill set that facilitated about every aspect of this play.
Before Benn can get going on the offensive, he first makes a great read behind his own net, and a good play with his stick to win the puck. Once he has it, he quickly notices open ice to his left, where at the very least he'll have a lane to clear the zone.
Benn gets to the open pocket of ice, and loses a defender in the process. He'll get a chance to break out of the zone with a teammate, with two Hurricanes back to defend.
As the Stars hit the red line, both defenders have their sights set on Benn. But because of his passing ability, and as he's looking off the far defender, Carolina has to at least account for the second player on the rush. Benn turns inside, and sells the pass, keeping the defender from pinching in any closer.
With that separation still intact, Benn uses his speed and size to split the defensemen while maintaining puck possession. He's quick enough to get to the spot, and strong enough to bully his way though it.
And, voila, Benn is in all alone on Anton Khudobin in the blink of an eye.
Catch-and-shoot is a concept more local to basketball. You wouldn't call it a catch-and-shoot situation in hockey, because that's essentially a one-timer. But Benn has such a quick release and deadly shot that he does possess this catch-and-shoot ability, and it fools goalies pretty regularly.
This Benn goal is from a game against the Oilers in January.
The Stars gain the zone on the power play, and Benn is positioned on the half-wall, an area he can either attack the net or pass from. Edmonton is chasing the puck, which is going to create space for Dallas to move the puck.
With Edmonton pretty stretched, Benn has a seam to occupy, and a target to position himself at in the high slot.
Benn takes the pass, but isn't in an immediately good position to shoot. He has to turn into the play toward the benches to control the puck. But his hands are always in a shooting position, meaning when he does get his hips around, he'll waist no time getting ride of the puck.
In one fluid motion, Benn is able to angle himself around the puck toward goal, and use his lower body to get more torque on the shot. His release and accuracy are such that Ilya Bryzgalov really stands no chance.
Strong net-front presence
Benn has the build of a power forward, and the quick hands of a sniper, as previously illustrated. Again, this array of skills is what allows him to be dangerous in so many different parts of the offensive zone. This goal against Winnipeg displays another weapon in his arsenal.
I'm actually going to start a few frames before the goal, because it's how this play develops that leads to Benn scoring. Off the rush, Dallas comes across the blue line 2-on-2. The only other player in sight is a backchecking Winnipeg forward.
But Benn hustles up ice, driving the center lane in case there's a shot off the rush and a rebound opportunity in front.
The puck ends up behind the net. Instead of staying on his spot as Eric Cole goes to retrieve the puck, Benn will circle back to the high slot and put himself in a shooting position.
Again, Winnipeg is able to shut down the play with compact spacing in its own zone. There's no pass to be made to Benn, so Cole will go up the boards to the point. Again, Benn doesn't remain stationary, and instead will go back in front with the puck headed toward his point-man.
Here's where Benn's size comes into play. He's able to read the point shot off the stick, and knows he needs to get inside position to have a chance at a play on a potential rebound. By lifting his stick, Benn avoids getting tied up. And the player he's fighting for position against, Dustin Byufglien, isn't exactly a lightweight, but Benn is still able to muscle his way through.