TAMPA, Fla. -- No matter what category you choose to use, Ben Bishop usually comes up near the top.
Since joining the Stars in 2017, Bishop ranks first in save percentage (.927) and second in goals against (2.21) in the NHL. He is 14th in wins at 65, but his .614 points percentage is among the top goalies, as well.
He's the tallest at 6-foot-7 and among the best puck handlers, so you can say the Stars are kinda lucky to have found him. And as Bishop returns to Tampa to face his old team Thursday (6 p.m. CT; FS-SW; KTCK), it's a good time to ponder his importance.
[GAME DAY GUIDE: Everything you need to know for Stars' game against Lightning]
"I've always considered Ben an elite goaltender, I've always considered Ben one of the top three or four goaltenders in this league," said Stars interim coach Rick Bowness, who was an assistant while Bishop played for the Lightning.
"He took us to the finals in Tampa, and there's no reason he can't do that again."
Bishop and Bowness have an immense amount of respect for each other, and that's been built on the fact the two have worked closely together for the better part of seven seasons. Bishop was twice a finalist for the Vezina Trophy in Tampa and finished second last season in Dallas. Bowness has been running the defense in front of Bishop for that span.
"I'm a huge fan of Rick's," Bishop said. "I mean, I've been a Vezina finalist three times with him, so I definitely think he's helped me a great deal."
Video: NJD@DAL: Bishop earns first shutout of the season
The combination seems to be working again this season. Bishop ranks third in goals against average at 2.07, third in save percentage at .933, and appears to be in the mix for the Vezina again. A big part of that is the simple fact that Bishop has made himself into one of the more consistent goalies in the NHL. He has the physical tools of size, athleticism and skill.
"He's so big, and he moves well for a big guy. He handles the puck well. He really does, when you break it down, he has it all," said Stars captain Jamie Benn. "He's one of the best in this league every year. He comes to play, and his stats back that up. He's the real deal."
Teammate Radek Faksa said he sees just how difficult it is for opponents to score when he tries to score on Bishop in practice.
"He's so good at being in the right place," Faksa said. "I try to shoot glove, he's there. I try to shoot blocker side, he's there. He's smart, and he's hard to score against."
Faksa said Bishop's size allows him to cover all of the net, even when he's down on the ice.
"Most of the goalies, when they go down in the butterfly, you try to shoot over the shoulders," Faksa said. "But he's big and the corners are not open as much. It's hard, for sure. Plus, he's quick for his size, so that makes it tough."
Bowness said he's noticed that same phenomenon during practice. Bishop is able to make shooters think, because there are no natural holes to see as you bear in on him.
Video: DAL@EDM: Bishop extends leg to rob McDavid at post
"There's drills that we do if you stand off to the side and get the right angle as the shooter is coming down, there is no net, you don't see anything," Bowness said. "Bish plays that as well as anyone."
And Bowness adds, he also has a beautiful mind.
"That's an underestimated thing on Bish's part … he has tremendous hockey IQ," Bowness said. "He sees the game and he knows what happens. If you miss a play (as a coach), you ask `Bish, what happened there?' and he'll be right on it."
Bishop having to battle his way to the NHL has helped. He played junior hockey with the Texas Tornado in Frisco back in 2004-05 and then went to the University of Maine. He was drafted by the Blues in 2005, and started to move his way up, playing 13 NHL games over two seasons. However, he was traded to the Senators and then to the Lightning, and that's where his career really picked up.
Bishop helped Tampa Bay to three glorious seasons, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015, where they lost in six games to the Blackhawks. As Bishop was nearing the need for a new contract, the Lightning decided to go with younger goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, and traded Bishop to Los Angeles.
Bishop struggled with the Kings, and the Stars acquired his rights, signing him to a six-year deal for $29.5 million in 2017.
"The trade to LA, it didn't work out well for either team, but that's part of being a pro athlete," Bowness said. "When he signed here in Texas, I texted him and said they're lucky to get you … and now, I'm lucky to be working with him again."
Bishop said last summer that he actually believes the trade to Los Angeles helped him, and added that all of these experiences combine to make him what he is today.
"I look at my time in LA as a good thing," he said. "I got to work with players who have won two Stanley Cups, with Jonathan Quick, with some great coaches. I think you have to look at everything as a chance to improve, a chance to learn, and that's what that was."
Now, he wants to use all of that experience to take the next step. He is 33, and in the prime of his career. He led the Stars to the second round of the playoffs last season, and has combined with Anton Khudobin to put them in a good place again this year.
Going back to Amalie Arena will be a chance to look back while looking forward.
"I've definitely paid my dues, so I think that's made a difference for me," Bishop said.
It's certainly made him the type of goalie who had 52 saves in a 2-1 double overtime loss to the Blues in Game 7 last spring.
"That's all you can ask for," said Benn. "When your goalie gives you a chance to win every game -- and both of our goalies do that -- it's a great feeling for your team."
Stars (19-12-4) at Lightning (17-12-3)
Thursday, 6 p.m. CT
Where: Amalie Arena
TV: FOX Sports Southwest
Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM, 96.7-FM
Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Calgary Flames as they return home to American Airlines Center on Sunday, Dec. 22 at 6 p.m. The first 5,000 kids receive a Miro Heiskanen youth jersey presented by AT&T. Get your tickets now!
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.