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Versatile Benn key to Stars' climb up standings

by Steve Hunt
DALLAS -- The big story in Dallas earlier this week was the return of All-Star center Brad Richards, who missed 10 games with concussion-like symptoms.  But another phenomenon has been the strong play of second-year forward Jamie Benn, who has goals in a career-best five straight games.

On Feb. 22 against New Jersey, the versatile 21-year-old returned from a 10-game absence with a shoulder injury. And two nights later in Detroit, he assisted on Mike Ribeiro's game-opening goal to help the Stars to a 4-1 win against the Red Wings.

In his eight games back, he has centered the top line in place of Richards and also played on both wings. But such versatility is nothing new.

"It seems like it's been like that all year, playing a different position every shift it seems like. But I'm used to it," Benn said prior to Friday's game against the Minnesota Wild. "I'll just do whatever I've got to do to make the team better. That's what I have to do."

Stars coach Marc Crawford definitely has liked what Benn, who has 18 goals and 40 points in 54 games this season, has brought to his club since returning.

"He's given us some great play. He's been very versatile. He's played all three forward positions, played on the penalty kill, been on the power play as well, and he's scored some big goals for us."
-- Stars coach, Marc Crawford

"He's given us some great play. He's been very versatile," Crawford said. "He's played all three forward positions, played on the penalty kill, been on the power play as well, and he's scored some big goals for us."

As a rookie, Benn had 22 goals and 19 assists while playing all 82 games. For Crawford, it was the experience Benn gained with the Stars' American Hockey League affiliate, the Texas Stars, during their run to the 2010 Calder Cup final that proved to be especially beneficial.

"He got to play through the American League playoffs, which is such a great developmental tool," Crawford said. "Him being a focal point down there has helped him now that he's getting the kind of attention that Ribeiro, Richards and (Brenden) Morrow will have gotten for the last 5-10 years. But that's all part of the learning curve for him."

However, delivering in prestigious events is far from foreign for Benn, who also has shined in such tournaments as the Traverse City Prospects Tournament, the World Junior Championship and the Memorial Cup.

Becoming such an offensive cog for the Stars now means Benn gets more attention from the opposition, something Crawford feels he thrives on.

"Because he scores so many big goals and he's got that goal-scoring streak going right now, it's just natural that you focus on him a little bit more," said Crawford. "On the other side, teams are focusing on him a lot more now than, say, at this time last year. Last year he was finishing off a very successful rookie season. Now he's just thriving on these intense games. Part of the development of Jamie has been that he's been in these types of situations before."

However, Benn is just one member of the roster who has returned over the past few weeks. In addition to Richards, Dallas also has seen wingers Krystofer Barch, Adam Burish and Toby Petersen return with favorable results. And Friday, defenseman Nicklas Grossman, who has missed the last 11 games with a lower-body injury, is scheduled to return.

With Grossman coming back, the Stars will have a healthy roster for the first time in several months.

"Nick will be in the lineup tonight. It's good news for us that he's back in," Crawford said. "To have everybody available, we haven't had that happen since before Christmas. It's nice to have that happen and it's good to have Nick Grossman back in our lineup."
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