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Stars’ Dynamic Duo Fine with Underrated Tag

by Steve Hunt / Dallas Stars

Labels can often be a funny thing, especially in the world of sports. Stars fans have realized the true greatness of Jamie Benn for the last two seasons and have also become enamored with the on-ice exploits of winger Loui Eriksson, a 2011 NHL All-Star.

Sports Illustrated NHL Players Poll: Most Underrated Players
So, at least in the eyes of local hockey fans, there is no way the moniker of underrated could ever be affixed to this Dallas dynamic duo. But many around the league haven’t quite discovered how great Benn and Eriksson are.

Eriksson was an All-Star for the first time last February, but before the 26-year-old Swedish winger skated in the Midseason Classic, he was one of the NHL’s best kept secrets.

It’s a similar story when it comes to Benn, who along with Eriksson was named the most underrated players in the league according to a recent poll of NHL players conducted by Sports Illustrated.

Seeing both of them considered underrated by their fellow NHLers is not a huge surprise. That’s because neither Benn nor Eriksson can be considered flashy. And instead of chirping about how great they are on the pond, both choose to instead let their play do the talking.

Benn currently leads the Stars with 28 assists and 41 points (13-28-41) plus he sports a solid plus-10 rating. Eriksson is currently second on the club in goals with 14 and in points with 38 (14-24-38). The 2011 All-Star forward also has a plus-minus rating of plus-14.

The rest of the NHL might consider them somewhat unheralded, but first-year Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan is definitely glad to have both of them on his roster.

“He (Benn) is turning 22 and he’s just emerging. Loui’s got that sneaky, smart way to fly under the radar and be real good just because he’s cerebral he does everything real well. But I don’t think Bennie will be on that list for too much longer,” Gulutzan said. “Bennie’s a little more flamboyant. He can hit and he’s a power forward. He’s got skill. I don’t think Bennie will stay on that list and that’s a good thing.”

Of course, since both of these rising stars are such low key personalities who don’t let such off-ice things even enter their psyche it’s no shock to hear them both not have much to say about being named the most underrated players in the NHL by their peers.

“I don’t have much to say about that. We just go out there and play our game,” Benn said. “I know Loui’s been on the radar for many years now. He’s a great player and he shows it. For me, I don’t really think much of it.”

Eriksson feels that his understated personality, which manifests itself both on the ice as well as off, could have played a role in him being named the league’s most underrated player for a second year in a row.

“I’m a pretty quiet person. I don’t know if it’s because we play in Dallas. I was voted that last year too. It’s nothing that I think about,” he said. “I just go out there and play my game. When I’m out there playing my game, I’m just trying to do my best and help my team as much as I can.”

Besides them both having laid-back personalities and not being as flashy or flamboyant as some of their NHL counterparts, another reason why this talented duo.

Up until Thursday’s 4-1 win in Nashville, Benn and Eriksson were skating on the same line, a trio with Benn as the center, Eriksson on the left wing and Michael Ryder on the right.

However, Gulutzan shook up his lines a bit against the Preds, moving Eriksson up to the top line alongside Brenden Morrow and Mike Ribeiro while Benn remained on the second line, which featured a new left winger in Steve Ott.

But it’s not like splitting up these two standouts has had any ill effects on their performances on the pond. Benn has delivered multiple-point games in each of his first two games with his new linemates, something he has now done in four straight games.

And in Saturday’s 4-1 win over Edmonton, Eriksson contributed three assists, something he had only done three other times in his NHL career. This year marks the Swedish winger’s fifth in the NHL while Benn has two years of experience under his belt. In that time, the 2011 All-Star has seen his younger teammate make a considerable leap from a prospect to a consistent offensive contributor in the league.

“He (Benn) is such a good player. He’s been great for us this year,” Eriksson said. “He’s really fun to watch when he’s out there playing his game. He can do a lot of stuff out there.”

Both young stars also have another theory as to why they might be considered underrated, considering they play in a town home to the reigning NBA champion Mavericks, two-time World Series participants Rangers and America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys.

However, Benn and Eriksson know that the recent changes in ticket pricing made under new owner Tom Gaglardi were a step in the right direction and as long as they keep winning, they know the fans will turn out.       

“We’re not in the biggest hockey town. I guess we’re the fourth seat in the car,” Benn said. “It’s not a big deal for us. We just want to win games and hopefully the fans will start coming.”

Eriksson added: “We have a lot of good sports in this town. Football, basketball and baseball, they’ve been playing really well too,” he said. “It’s just fun to be recognized for this.”

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