FRISCO, Texas -- Normally a man of relatively few words, Dallas Stars center Jamie Benn summed it up perfectly when addressing the media after his first practice of the season, saying he hadn’t stopped smiling all day Friday, one day after he and the Stars agreed to a five-year, $26.25 million contract.
"It's great to be back in here and skating with the guys. I had a great first practice," Benn said. "It's really great that Tom [Gaglardi, owner], Joe [Nieuwendyk, general manager] and the Dallas Stars organization believes in me. I'm happy that I'm a Star for five more years and definitely looking forward to it."
The 23-year-old center skated in his first NHL All-Star Game last season and went on to a career-best 26 goals and 63 points in 71 games. He was a fixture on the team's top two lines last season, a role he'll return to as soon as Monday when the Stars begin a two-game road trip at the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"Yeah, on our team somewhere [is where he'll play]," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said after practice when asked where Benn will play. "He's going to play in the middle [of the second line], probably with [Ray] Whitney and [Michael] Ryder."
The team Benn returns to and the one he last skated with in early April 2012 are much different. Long-time Stars Steve Ott and Mike Ribeiro are gone, having been traded in the offseason, and Dallas added Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and Whitney to help bolster their offense at even strength as well as on the power play.
Returning to Dallas also gives Benn the unique opportunity to again skate alongside older brother Jordie. Along with Trevor Daley, Jordie Benn has comprised Dallas' No. 2 defense pairing through the first five games of the season. Jordie also was up for a three-game stint with the Stars last season, and the brothers assisted on a goal by Loui Eriksson in a 5-4 home loss to the Detroit Red Wings in January 2012.
"I'm not sure who I'm more excited to play with -- Jagr, Whitney or my brother," Benn said. "Having Ray and Jagr in here is pretty special for the Dallas organization. It's going to be fun to learn from them, to see how they go about their business as hockey players. So I’m looking forward to it."
But don't take that statement to be a slight on how great it is to be playing alongside his big brother, who had 17 points in 34 games with the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League during the lockout.
"Yeah, I’m pretty excited to be out there and skating with him again," Benn said. "He's worked so hard to be here."
Other than Gulutzan, there might not be anyone happier to see Benn back on the ice than Stars captain Brenden Morrow.
"He's a top player on the team," Morrow said. "It is huge for us. We've been anxious and excited about this date for a while now. Just happy to get him back in the mix."
After spending part of the lockout playing in Germany, Benn has been home for about a month and kept in shape by skating with the Victoria Royals of the Western Hockey League, his hometown team. But as great as it was to be skating with WHL players, he admitted that there's no substitute to being back with the Stars, an organization full of people and teammates that he considers his on-ice family.
"For sure, being in the dressing room and being around the guys [is the greatest thing about being back]," he said. "I've made a lot of great friends my first three years here and looking forward to getting to know the new guys."
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