NHL scouts are generally pretty good at their job. These guys scout thousands of players, work the offseason, and live out of their suitcase more than out of their closet. Once in a while, though, a player falls through the cracks. It’s a mathematical inevitability, and a huge draft profit for the lucky team.
Dallas stars winger Jamie Benn was drafted in the fifth round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Up until this year, there were three players in that draft that have been NHL All-Star picks: Patrick Kane, Logan Couture, and P.K. Subban. That makes Benn a huge find for the Stars coming out of that particular draft.
From Benn’s rookie season in 2009 through the end of last year, there were nine players under the age of 25 that tallied 110+ goals; Benn is one of them with 116, more than Logan Couture (112), and Matt Duchene (105). It was never a question of being able to score goals. Benn dropped that far in the draft for another reason. Taken from Hockey’s Future:
Benn is a pure sniper with both good shooting and deking abilities in close… But his skating is average at best. How he will adjust to less time and space in the pros is an open question. At 6’2, 185 lbs, he doesn’t use his size particularly well and he’s not an overly physical force.
It’s amazing what a couple of years can do.
That analysis wasn’t off-base. Big guys who don’t develop their skating and physical game, no matter the skill, tend to not last very long (see: Robbie Schremp). Lars Eller, a player the same size as Benn, is still fine-tuning his game in Montreal. Size and skill are one thing (well, two), learning how to use size and skill at the NHL level is another story.
Judging by this goal Benn scored last week against the Columbus Blue Jackets, it’s safe to say he’s learned to use his size and skill to his benefit:
Until last year, the Stars had not made the playoffs since his arrival. The Stars had a sad-looking roster during his formative years. Outside of Loui Eriksson, Mike Ribeiro, and Michael Ryder, the Stars never had much offensive punch. Not much on the defensive side, either: From 2009-2013, the Dallas Stars had a 49.4 GoalsFor-percentage and a 48.7 CorsiFor-percentage. Benn, over that stretch, was 51.6-percent and 50.9-percent respectively. All of his top forward line mates, including Eriksson and Ribeiro, were all worse in possession away from him than with him. These numbers indicate two things:
- Dallas was better off with Benn on the ice than without him. That should go without saying, but it quantifies just how much better they were, and a 2.2-percent difference in goal and possession differential is a lot. For those in fantasy leagues counting plus/minus, it also means that unless Dallas goaltending craters, he shouldn’t hurt in that category.
- It shows that it was Benn, and not Eriksson or Ribeiro, who drove the offense. Some guys have nice possession numbers because of who they play with. Some have nice possession numbers despite who they play with. Ribeiro and Eriksson were the former, Benn was the latter.
Of course, once Tyler Seguin was added to the fold, things just took off. Not only did his goal and assists totals go up – important for fantasy – but his shot rate blew up: from 2011-2013, he had 2.79 shots on goal per game; last year – in less ice time than in 2012-2013 – Benn took 3.44 shots per game. That’s about an extra 53 shots in an 82-game season. This is important because shooting percentage can vary pretty wildly year to year. The only way to mitigate a drop in shooting percentage, like Benn had in the lockout-shortened season, is through a higher volume of shots. So not only are more shots good for fantasy shots on goal categories, but it can help prevent a severe drop in goals scored.
The final point in all of this is that Benn has a nice floor from what we’ve seen him do before Tyler Seguin arrived. If something were to happen to Seguin, fantasy hockey owners know they’ll still get about 25 goals and 60 points.
Assuming both he and Seguin stay healthy, though, there’s some serious upside. Since the start of last year, Seguin and Benn are fourth and seventh in NHL scoring, respectively. Their combined total of 177 is more than Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin (169), and only seven fewer than Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. They were a 53-percent CorsiFor together last year, and that number has increased slightly this year. Their ability to possess the puck is nice, but their ability to bury it is what separates them from most teammates.
Benn turned 25-years-old in July, so he’s right in his prime as a hockey player. He always possessed size and skill, but has learned to use them. He had struggled with his skating ability, but has improved that area a lot. He showed ability at a young age to drive possession, but now is in an opportunity to really make use of all his skills alongside another all-world talent. In the fantasy hockey game, Jamie Benn is about as good as it gets outside of the Crosby/Stamkos/Ovechkin/Malkin tier.