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Stars' rookie Benn there, done that

by Dan Rosen

"It's definitely what I thought it would be. It's a challenge every night and that's the best part of it. It's tough, but it's fun. You have to step up to the challenge." -- Jamie Benn

Marc Crawford didn't just see Jamie Benn as Dallas' best rookie in training camp.

"He was probably our best player in training camp," Crawford told last week.

At that point, Crawford said, the Stars' management group had to debate if they could teach Benn everything he didn't know while allowing him to adjust to the NHL?

The answer was obviously yes, but only because Benn, a fifth-round pick in 2007, showed on a daily basis how badly he wanted to make the team, or, more importantly, how badly he wanted to avoid going to the minor leagues.

Benn knew his chances of making the opening night roster were slim when he arrived in camp, but he was determined to do everything in his power to at least make Crawford and GM Joe Nieuwendyk think before they penned the lineup.

Turns out they made the right move in keeping the 20-year-old B.C. boy.

Benn was one of the Stars' best players through the first month with 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) in 14 games, good for fifth on the team in October. His scoring has been up and down since (he now has 21 points in 44 games), but more importantly Benn is learning the NHL game and how his size, shot and one-on-one ability can play nicely to his advantage even at this level.

His skill and creativity have complemented Brenden Morrow's gritty game very well, which is why Crawford has kept them on opposite wings of the same line for most of the season. Tom Wandell, Mike Modano and Mike Ribeiro have rotated as the center.

"It's definitely what I thought it would be," Benn told of his adjustment to the League. "It's a challenge every night and that's the best part of it. It's tough, but it's fun. You have to step up to the challenge."

Benn has recently hit a rut with 1 point and a minus-3 rating in his last eight games, but Crawford figured that would happen at some point. It does with almost every young player getting adjusted to the NHL.

"When you go through the circuit, there is all the newness of it," Crawford said. "It energizes you and you hope young guys bring energy to all the games, but it is somewhat overwhelming for them."

Crawford stopped short of saying this is a low point in Benn's rookie season.

"We recognize that he is going to have some highs and some times where he is just going to be getting by," he said. "He has stayed away from the lows, that's for sure."

The Stars particularly like Benn's physical upside. He's listed at 6-2 and he's a thick 207 pounds with some lingering baby fat. Crawford expects he'll turn that into muscle over the next few summers, and then he'll be a force to deal with on the right wing.

"He will in two or three years time," Crawford said. "He doesn't have an NHL body … but he has the kind of ability that allows him to play even with his limitations right now."

Morrow credits that to Benn's hockey sense and intelligence. He's gained a reputation as a guy who is very coachable and understands quickly what is being asked of him.

"I think 'Crow' is getting comfortable putting him in different situations and late in the game he has no problem putting him on the ice," Morrow told "He has no concerns with him."

Benn's growth from an 18-year-old kid with no major junior experience in 2007 to a 20-year-old coming off back-to-back stellar seasons for the WHL' Kelowna Rockets (147 points in 107 games) is staggering, Modano told He hasn't only matured mentally and physically, but his skating has drastically improved.

"He moves up and down the ice very well compared to his first couple of camps," Modano said. "It's all of his hockey sense, too. You can't teach hockey sense. You either have it or you don't, and he knows where to go and what to do with the puck. There is tons of upside there."

Benn prefers to stay quiet about his surprisingly first half. He credits Morrow for showing him the ropes and the coaching staff for showing faith in him.

"I got the opportunity from the coaches and that really helped out my confidence," Benn said. "Everyday I'm learning something new."

Such as how to use his size, even if Crawford thinks he's still a few years away from filling out.

"It doesn't really seem like you use it too much in junior because guys aren't so big," Benn said, "but definitely up here you have to use your size to your advantage to protect the puck."

"His shot is one of the best on the team," Morrow said. "He has a quick release. It's just a matter of getting into those scoring areas to use it. He has the tools."

Crawford and Nieuwendyk knew that in training camp. Benn made sure of that.

"He kept showing us day after day that he was not only good in practice and in games, but he was good at home, good on the road, good in his own end, and good at creating chances," Crawford said. "So, he certainly deserves to be here."

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