The players at the Dallas Stars development camp were just getting through lunch Monday when there was a ripple of excitement. In short order, many of the draft picks and prospects attending the camp at the team's practice facility were peering through the windows in the lunch room overlooking the ice surface, focusing on one figure among a handful working out on the ice; Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn.
Benn, along with his brother, Jordie, now with the Montreal Canadiens, and forward Mattias Janmark were among a handful of players working on a variety of drills after those involved in the Stars development camp were done with their on-ice sessions.
It was a brief, surprise visit from the Dallas captain who, like everyone connected with the team, is trying to put behind him a disastrous 2016-17 campaign that saw the team miss the playoffs after winning the Central Division title and advance to the second round of the playoffs a year earlier.
Benn, the NHL's leading scorer in 2014-15 and a finalist for the Hart Trophy as league MVP the following season, saw his point totals drop from 89 in 2015-16 to 69 last season and the team fell out of contention early, wracked by injury and poor defense and goaltending. Benn also finished third in Hart voting in 15-16 and was a finalist for the Ted Lindsay award as the MVP as voted on by the players.
But when we caught up with the 27-year-old Benn after Monday's impromptu workout, he seemed enthused about the myriad off-season changes including the hiring of former Dallas head coach Ken Hitchcock, the acquisitions of netminder Ben Bishop and defenseman Marc Methot and recent signing of free agents Martin Hanzal and Alexander Radulov, moves that have dramatically altered the team's outlook for the coming season.