Jamie Benn Takes His Game to New Heights
“How much time do you have?” he asked.
And then Horcoff, a former captain with the Edmonton Oilers, offered a brief outline of Benn’s attributes.
“First off, he just plays the game the right way. He cares. He’s physical. He can bring anything to the game that is needed at any given time and there are not really that many guys in the game that can do that,” Horcoff said. “If we need a spark physically, he’s there. He can create on his own, he really doesn’t need a lot of outside support to be a scorer. At the start [of the season] he was new to it and a little quiet, but he’s really opened up and he says things when they need to be said now. He feels so much more comfortable now and you can see it. We just kind of gravitate towards that.”
Ask Benn about his play, his leadership or just about anything else and there’s a good chance the answer may be shorter than the question. Asked to sum up the last year, which saw him become captain, win a gold medal at the Olympics and help lead the Stars to the playoffs for the first time since 2008, Benn gave a typical Benn answer.
“It was pretty crazy. It went by pretty fast and I would have to say it was a success,” he said.
Oh, that Jamie Benn. He may talk more now in his role as captain, but he can be a man of few words with the media. He prefers to let his play do the talking, and his play said a lot this season. His 79 points were tied for eighth in the NHL and his 34 goals tied for ninth. Sometimes his goals are highlight reel worthy. Sometimes they are gritty goals. He can score a lot of ways.
He was clutch, too. As the Stars secured that final playoff spot in the Western Conference down the stretch, he registered eight points (four goals, four assists) in the five games leading up to the Stars clinching a berth in the NHL’s postseason tournament.
And he was a big part of Canada’s winning a gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, starting off with a lesser role on the team but earning a greater role and becoming a national hero after scoring the game-winning goal in a 1-0 victory over Team USA.
“I think it was a big boost,” Benn said of his Olympic experience. “I gave myself some confidence and I got to learn from a lot of great people over there. And just to be surrounded by the best players in the world helped me.”
Stars coach Lindy Ruff, who was an associate coach with Canada at the Olympics, was along for the entire ride as Benn took his game to new heights this season.
“He has played through some stuff that you guys don’t even know he’s played through in the regular season and now,” Ruff said. “In the Olympics, he was given a lighter role and went out and earned a greater role. It’s a lesson for any player. The better you go, the more you get. I’ve really seen some great things that as a coach it puts a smile on your face.
“I didn’t know a lot about him [when I first came here], didn’t know much about character, didn’t know what his skill level was actually like, how his compete was going to be under the gun. But from Day 1, I’ve just been impressed with the whole package. It’s the whole package. It’s his compete, it’s his will to win. I think he showed on the Olympic stage, kept moving up, kept moving up and did a hell of a job there. He’s done the same thing here.”
Getting passed over for Canada’s summer Olympic orientation camp was a big motivator for Benn coming into the season.
“It gives you a little fire,” Benn said in late August as he arrived in Frisco to prepare for training camp. “I just want to kind of shove it in their face. It is what it is. I definitely want to be there. I’ll just have to prove myself the first half of the year.”
He did that, securing a spot on Canada’s roster with his stellar play over the first three months of the season.
The Stars named him captain during training camp, and Benn said nothing would change in the way he approached the game.
“I am who I am,” Benn said at the time. “I want to go out on the ice and lead by example. That’s what I do best, play hard for my teammates. I want to keep doing that and set a good example on and off the ice.”
And he did that.
“Ever since he has put the ‘C’ on his shoulder, he has taken the lead of this team,” said Stars defenseman Jordie Benn, Jamie’s older brother. “You can see it on the ice, see it in practice, the way he presents himself and the way he brings his game to the rink every day.”
The vocal part of the job took a little time.
“He started out as this quiet captain, and you don’t become this great captain where, I put a ‘C’ on you and you and, ‘Oh, I’m the captain now.’ That evolves, that’s a process,” said Ruff.
The 24-year-old Benn felt he was ready to be captain, but he knew he wasn’t going to lead alone. He gave credit to his teammates and veterans on the team for helping him along the way. There were guys like Horcoff, Ray Whitney, Vernon Fiddler, Trevor Daley and others.
“I have a lot of confidence in myself,” he said. “I think the best part about being captain this year was being able to be around these guys every day. I had such a great supporting cast with the veterans we had on this team. It made my job pretty easy.”
Benn put up career highs in goals (34), assists (45) and points (79) this season. He moved to left wing this season after the Stars acquired center Tyler Seguin from Boston. And playing with Seguin helped take his game to a new level as those two formed one of the most potent forward combinations in the NHL.
“I was real excited to play with him. If I look at his growth over the year, it is pretty amazing,” said Seguin. “Not only his hockey, but his leadership on the big stages. I think his Olympics helped, what he did over there. Every game when we were fighting for the playoffs he seemed to step up his game, his leadership and his talking. He wasn’t the biggest talker when I first got here.”
Benn delivered in the playoffs as well, leading the team with four goals in six games in the playoff series against the Ducks, who heaped praise on him during the series.
“He’s a hell of a player,” said Ducks forward Corey Perry. “You got size, you got speed, you got skill. You put it all together and you got Jamie Benn. That’s the type of player he is. He can be physical when he wants to be and do all those dirty things if need be. As a player, he’s the all-around player that you want on your team.”
“He’s a great player,” added Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. “I’ve thought Jamie Benn was a great player since I saw him playing against Hershey when he was with Texas [during the 2010 AHL Calder Cup playoffs]. And still do. Thought he would be a perfect fit when you’re making your mock Olympic teams up with Perry and [Ryan Getzlaf]. Just a winner. He reminds me of those leaders like Getzy and [Jarome] Iginla that they’ll not only play and do the right things but they’ll fight when they need to. And they do whatever it takes to win.”
And Benn did just that in helping the Stars get to the playoffs and giving the Ducks a good run in that first round playoff series. Benn established himself as a star in his first four seasons in the NHL, but this season he took it to a new a level.
“He’s shown that he’s not just a star, but a superstar,” said Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon. “Everybody in this room respects him and he is our true leader. He had an unbelievable season. I think it shows everybody that we’ve got one of the best players in the National Hockey League on our team.”
And he’s putting himself on a path to be one of the top captains in the league as well.
“There aren’t too many guys that lead with more of a complete game like he does,” said Horcoff. “He’s going to be one of the better ones for a long time to come.”