The X List: Coming Out of Obscurity | Benn and Staal
By Jeff Quirin
NHLHS Associate Editor
Every season several players rise from the depths of obscurity in all its various forms. In this premier series of the X List I take a look at the top 10 players to come out of obscurity and forge their way into (back into in some cases) the NHL limelight. Here are numbers 5 and 6.
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6. Jamie Benn – Forward – Dallas Stars
For most NHL players scoring 22 goals and registering 54 points in just 69 games during a sophomore effort would garner more attention. But when your franchise is mired in financial trouble and you skate behind one of the hottest lines in the conference it’s easy to get lost in the mix. So went the 2010-11 season for Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn.
His 2011-12 campaign will not likely go the same.
On the ice the biggest barriers to notoriety have been removed. Benn started last season on the Stars second unit behind their top trio (and arguably the second best in the West) of Loui Eriksson, Brad Richards and James Neal. That line is no more as two thirds have left Dallas. Neal was the first to go in a February trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins which netted defenseman Alex Goligoski. Richards moved on when he signed one of the biggest free agent deals of the summer with the New York Rangers. Taking his team leading 77 points in 72 games with him.
Benn won’t be a stranger to the increase in responsibility that comes with first line opportunity. Returning from injury on February 22nd he stepped in to a larger role with Neal no longer his teammate. In the 23 games that followed during the race for playoffs Benn tallied 9 goals and 14 assists while playing more than 21 minutes a game. Proving that his previous success was not just because of the Richards line taking the tougher match-ups and he can be a clutch performer.
Part of being a trusted option for a head coach is excelling in all situations and areas of play. Like Marian Hossa, Benn realizes that he has defensive responsibilities at even strangth. Like Ryan Kesler he is capable of handling important man advantage and penalty kill minutes. While Benn’s skill set is not as progressed as those two, nor is his resume as defined, their styles are similar. Big bodies making big plays for their team.
Now that the ownership situation is about to resolve itself, Benn’s time to shine on the frozen sheet has arrived.
5. Jordan Staal – Forward – Pittsburgh Penguins
A 2nd overall selection. A 29 goal rookie season. One of three 2010 Selke finalists. A key figure in back to back Stanley Cup appearances. An important player in a Stanley Cup championship. Such a resume would lead the average puckhead to think that unnamed player would be well known. Certainly Jordan Staal is to some, but far more know of his teammates Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and owner Mario Lemeuix.
The opportunity to edge his way in to more of the Pittsburgh hockey spotlight has never been stronger.
Staal’s prowess as one of the top checking centers in the league is common knowledge. The silky smooth skater lead the best third line in hockey with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy on his wing for quite some time. Tackling the toughest defensive assignments for head coach Dan Bylsma. Not only taking care of their own end, but also chipping in more than their fair share of goals.
The Penguins are a club built to be strong down the middle. With question surrounding Crosby’s return from post concussion symptoms and how strong Malkin will be coming off a serious knee injury said strength is challenged. Staal will need to take his offensive game to the next level and fulfill his draft pedigree as a top line, do it all centerman.
The supporting cast is present to aid the Thunder Bay native. James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Steve Sullivan are all experienced producers. Kennedy may be a diamond in the rough consistent 20 goal scorer. Pascal Dupuis knows how to do the dirty work freeing up the skilled players. There is the ever present offensive presence from the point lead by Kris Letang and Paul Martin.
This same group, sans Sullivan, were all present for Staal’s shortened 2010-11 campaign. In which Crosby and Malkin were both missing for the vast majority of games. From the Winter Classic forward he registered 11 goals and 30 points in 42 games. Roughly a 59 point pace projected out over 82 games. The best pace of his career. All while averaging over 21 minutes on ice a night.
The 2011-12 season appears to be the one where Staal takes his place along with the Ryan Kesler‘s, Jonathan Toews‘ and Mike Richards‘ of the league.
Thanks for reading. As always you are welcome to follow me on Twitter: @JTQ_1.