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Jamie Benn growing into role as captain of Stars

by Steve Hunt

DALLAS -- Last season was a giant learning experience for Jamie Benn.

But considering it was the start of what likely will be a long run as captain of the Dallas Stars, Benn viewed it as very productive.

Benn, a fifth-round pick (No. 129) in the 2007 NHL Draft, is in his sixth season in the League. He is second on Dallas with 58 points (23 goals, 35 assists), and is tied for ninth in the NHL.

Last season, Benn was a big reason the Stars made the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in six years; they were defeated by the Anaheim Ducks in a six-game Western Conference First Round series.

The Stars, who lost 7-6 in overtime to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday at American Airlines Center, complete a back-to-back Sunday at the Minnesota Wild (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN).

Benn's transition to captain has been seamless, something he credits to the presence of veterans Shawn Horcoff, a captain for three seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, and Ray Whitney, a teammate last season who was an alternate captain during two seasons in Dallas.

"I think it all started last year. Being a first-year captain, I got to ask them a few things and learn from them just to see how captains do it," Benn said.

When Dallas acquired veteran center Jason Spezza in a trade with the Ottawa Senators last summer, the former Ottawa captain quickly became Benn's newest confidant.

"I think Jamie does a great job of being captain because he's very levelheaded. He knows when to speak up, he knows when not to," Spezza said. "He's kind of the strong, silent type that when he does speak, the guys listen. He's a very mature guy for his age (25)."

Their relationship was tested when Benn, a fan of the Seattle Seahawks, invited Spezza, a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan, to his house for the Seahawks-Cowboys NFL game. Dallas edged Seattle 30-23 and Spezza admits he enjoyed the victory and told Benn all about it.

Jamie Benn
Left Wing - DAL
GOALS: 23 | ASST: 35 | PTS: 58
SOG: 183 | +/-: -2
"He's a Seahawks fan, I'm a Cowboys fan, and [it] worked out well for me that day. The boys give me a hard time for liking the Cowboys," Spezza said. "I stuck around and gloated for a little bit. Then, I left."

Benn isn't known as a vocal player. But Horcoff and Spezza have no problem speaking up, so Benn feels it's a dynamic that works.

"They've been around for so long, it takes a little bit of pressure off me," Benn said. "They kind of let me just focus on what I have to do. They're more the vocal guys."

Benn has become more comfortable this season because he and older brother Jordie Benn, a defenseman, are teammates for a third consecutive season.

"It's been awesome to play on the same team with him and grow as people and players," Jamie Benn said. "It's a pretty special thing, what we're doing. Not too many brothers can say they played in the NHL on the same team.

"We're definitely not taking it for granted. We enjoy each and every day."

The Benn brothers couldn't be more different. Earlier this season, Jordie, 27, grew a beard; Jamie opts for a clean-shaven look. Jordie drives a truck and listens to country music; Jamie listens to techno.

"I can't grow a beard like him. … and I like to say I like my fashion and like to keep it clean," Jamie Benn said.

Benn was named captain in September 2013, after Stars general manager Jim Nill was hired in April. A longtime assistant general manager with the Detroit Red Wings, Nill knows that first year as captain can be difficult. But he likes what he's seen from Benn.

"You're seeing more personality come out with him," Nill said. "It's just been kind of nice to see. He's a very sincere guy. He's a team guy. That's one of the reasons he's captain.

"He's just so much more comfortable now either coming to talk to me or talk to [coach Lindy Ruff]. It's nice to see the growth there."

Ruff agreed with Nill that Benn was the right choice as captain and the face of the Stars going forward.

"He's really opened up," Ruff said. "He's personable. He understands his role. The conversations (between he and I) are a lot easier and I think there's a comfort level with the relationship that we have."

Ruff has so much trust in Benn he lets him handle one of his customary duties as coach.

"A majority of the time, I don't go in the room after the game," Ruff said. "You'll hear him talking to the team, and that's all about growing. It's all about growing as a team and holding each other accountable. I don't think it's a one-man job. I think it's a committee job on our team where we have lots of good leaders, but he is the leader of all those leaders."

After Dallas made the playoffs last season and added Spezza and Ales Hemsky this offseason, expectations were high. But when the Stars struggled, much of the criticism was directed at Benn, who, like his team, didn't start well. But he remained confident and ignored what was being written about him.

"No, I can't read, so it's perfect," Benn said. "I know my parents, they like to read all that stuff because they're stuck up there in Canada. When they tell me they read stuff, I'm like, 'I don't really care.' I don't think too much good can come out of reading good or bad, so I try and just stay away from that."

On Feb. 13, Tyler Seguin, the Stars leader in goals (29) and points (59), sustained a right-knee injury in a 2-0 win against the Florida Panthers. Seguin is expected to be out 3-6 weeks.

In four games without Seguin, Benn has eight points, including his first NHL hat trick in a 4-1 win at the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday.

"It's a great opportunity for guys to step up on this team, myself included," Benn said. "We've had a few injuries here now and it gives a chance for young guys to come in here and have a bigger impact. Guys like myself and the leaders in this group have to step up our game as well. We're going to have to do it as a group in here."

Benn knows the goal for the final 23 games.

"I just want to be as consistent as possible coming down the stretch here," he said. "I'm trying to be the best player I can be for this team because we want to get into the playoffs there, and it's going to take a lot of hard work."

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