Amidst great years from other team members, captain Jamie Benn provides steady leadership with very little flash or fanfare.
I ran across a Q&A while the Dallas Stars were laying a rotten egg last night. The Dallas Morning News’s Mike Heika hosted a live chat last week. In the session, he was asked who the leader of the team is currently. He cited winger Alexander Radulov’s energy but stated that defenseman John Klingberg leads this bunch.
When you take everything into account, Klingberg’s deeds certainly warrant mentioning. He ranks among the best defensemen in the NHL and is in the discussion as a Norris Trophy candidate. He also co-leads the team in points and is top-5 in plus-minus. Furthermore, he has improved by leaps and bounds under coach Ken Hitchcock.
Speaking of improvement, the same can be said about center Tyler Seguin. At some point in time, I will have to devote a whole blog entry–may be more–to how wrong I was about him. I had some major doubts about how he would respond to Hitchcock’s renowned reputation for henpecking his star players. But Seguin’s evolution into a two-way center certainly evokes memories of a certain number nine that dominated in Dallas for years.
If you haven’t picked up on it by now, the common denominator in the Dallas Stars’ resurgence is coaching. No knock on ex-coach Lindy Ruff, but the one most of us affectionately refer to as “Hitch” brings tried and true methods. It’s not a high-octane, up-and-down game. It relies on sound positioning, good defense, and solid goaltending. Most importantly, it translates directly to the two-month death march known as the Stanley Cup playoffs.
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This is where the captain comes in. While I had my doubts about Seguin, they never existed in regards to Jamie Benn. There’s a certain quality about Benn that seems to transcend coaching styles. He’s never the flashiest scorer, although he’s no slouch in that department. He’s not the speediest skater, although he’s not out there embarrassing himself, either. Dude holds his own just fine. He also abides by the “speak softly but carry a big stick” axiom as well. This is evidenced by his soft-spoken style off the rink and heavy game on the ice.
While much ink gets spilled over guys named Klingberg, Radulov, and Seguin–and rightfully so–there’s a reason Benn wears the “C” on his sweater. He’s the quintessential lead-by-example captain. And rest assured, if and when the Dallas Stars advance during the playoffs, Benn’s fingerprints will be all over the outcome. He has very quietly ascended to the Stars’ top three, in terms of goals, assists, points, and plus-minus. It will be very surprising if this doesn’t carry over into the tournament.
There’s a certain segment of the population that follows the first rule of the grind. They simply don’t talk about the grind. It’s about work before skill. It’s about accountability. There’s an integrity to Jamie Benn’s game that’s intrinsic to all of that. As long as he maintains a modicum of health, the Dallas Stars will be in good shape for the foreseeable future.