If you had to list the players in order of who is least likely to be traded from the Stars, I think Jamie Benn would be No. 1.
Part of that is because Benn is extremely affordable and has two more years left on his entry level contract at an average of $821,667. But the bigger part of it is that they believe the sky is the limit with Benn.
A jewel of a find in the fifth round of the 2007 entry draft (129th overall), Benn has been amazingly consistent in rising to the level of play wherever he goes for the past three seasons.
Benn was drafted out of the British Columbia Hockey League, which is Junior A or a level below Major Junior in Canada. But in his first year in Major Junior with the Kelowna Rockets, he posted 33 goals among 65 points in 51 games. He then added 11 points in seven playoff games.
In September of 2008, Benn joined the Stars' prospects in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament, and helped Dallas beat some of the best NHL prospects by scoring five goals in four games en route to the tournament championship.
The next season, he posted 46 goals among 82 points in 51 games in Kelowna. When he was selected for the World Juniors in the middle of the season, he had four goals and two assists in six games to help Canada win gold against the best junior players in the world.
When he got back to Kelowna, he helped the Rockets advance to the Memorial Cup and led all junior players in playoff scoring with 13 goals among 33 points in 19 games.
Last season, Benn was scheduled to play in the AHL, but was so good that he made the Stars roster. He finished with 22 goals among 41 points in 82 games in his first NHL campaign, which is very respectable for a rookie. When that was over and he was moved to the Stars' AHL affiliate, he finished third in playoff scoring with 14 goals among 26 points in 24 games.
Bottom line, he has become one of the best players in every situation he has been placed in the past three seasons. And the Stars believe he is well on his way to becoming one of the best players there.
Benn is a diligent worker, a quick learner and an extremely talented player, so the Stars expect him to continue to improve. The biggest challenge for him this season will be adjusting to the fact the team still doesn't know if they want to use him as a winger or a center. Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk and the coaches decided that Benn had all of the talents needed to play center, so when Tom Wandell and Mike Ribeiro went through injury problems last season, Benn was moved to center _ a position he had never played before.
Nieuwendyk liked the results, and still believes that Benn can make a great center. If he can, it would help solve the Stars' abundance of left wings, as Brenden Morrow, Steve Ott and James Neal also are best on the left wing. The problem with that theory is that if the Stars are healthy, then they have their No. 1 and No. 2 centers spots taken by Brad Richards and Mike Ribeiro. And with Wandell fully recovered from knee surgery, coach Marc Crawford would have to decide whether to play Wandell or Benn on the fourth line. That just doesn't seem to make much sense.
Nieuwendyk has an old school philosophy in that he will not force the coach to do anything. That was clear in the AHL playoffs last season, as he would have liked to play Benn at center the whole time, but Texas Stars coach Glen Gulutzan needed him on the left wing. Nieuwendyk allowed Gulutzan to make the decisions that best fit his team, and the Texas Stars made it to the Calder Cup Final.
As the Stars are currently constructed, Benn might be best used as a right wing on a line with Brenden Morrow and Ribeiro. Or, he could even end up as a left wing with Wandell on the checking line. He might have to play all three forward positions. It's a lot to ask of the kid, but he seems to be able to handle any changes. I think he and Steve Ott will just have to be on their toes and ready for anything.
I personally do not believe Benn is best used as a center. I think he's shown at several levels, that he is a high-end goal-scorer who can rise to whatever level he is placed. But, the Stars have too many left wings, and Benn is clearly the player who could best adapt to a new position. And if the GM, who was a fantastic center when he played, believes Benn has the tools to be a center, well, that counts for something.
But, like I said, I do not believe Nieuwendyk will force this issue. He will allow Crawford to decide what's best for this team.
It will be very interesting to see how the Stars use Benn. He might eventually end up as a center in the future, but I think he'll play more wing than center this season.
It will be just one of the reasons to watch this team, because I really think Benn is one of the most important players in the organization, and I think his development is one of the team's most important issues.