Thursday, February 2, 2012
Thursday Morning Cupcheck - Is Jamie Benn the Next Modano?
The answer? Pretty much what you'd expect.
Good morning, hockey fans! Last week we put our steel boots on the necks of any Dallas Stars trade rumors. This week, rather than bask in the glow of our finally-healthy-for-the-first-time-since-mid-October lineup (I believe the actual German word for that is fahrfegnugensexbombediscothequeschwinehundkopf) winning big in Anaheim, it's time to see how much love Jamie Benn — the one guy on this team that can skate, shoot, pass, hit, intercept, and plant butts on the edges of seats — is getting from the national hockey media.
Hmmm ... not in the top 10, no surprise there ... (reads on) ... hmmm ... not top 50? Let me re-read that list again .... (makes concerned face, raises eyebrows) ... nowhere in the top 75? Are you serious? It's got to be here someplace, the guy's 20th in the league in scoring, for chrissakes! Perhaps Buccigross threw him a bone in the late '90s ... (monocle drops into sherry glass) Sheesh! No mention in the Top 100?
Do we still have to go over this? I know most major hockey media outlets left Benn completely out of their preseason predictions, but that was preseason. We're more than halfway in. It's 2012. Benn has put up 45 points in 44 games. He's got almost twice as many assists (31) as the Irreplaceable Guy that he replaced (Brad Richards, 17). He won two of the All-Star shooting accuracy skills contests, and it wasn't even close.
Just in terms of pure scoring ability — and far more importantly, pure scoring results — Benn should already be included in a list of the Top 100 players in the NHL. And that's ignoring the other things he does at a high level, such as:
So yeah, I can see why the major hockey media would ignore stuff like that in favor of Christian Ehrhoff and Jeff Carter.
Benn's most important asset is none of these things, however. Unlike basketball or golf or any of the other unwatchable "sports" on television, hockey is a team sport. A player's worth is truly determined by how he can make the players around him better, which in turn leads to the most important of all hockey stats, "wins."
How have Benn's linemates performed this season? Benn's a converted winger, playing in #1 center Brad Richards' old spot. The conventional wisdom heading into this season was that Richards' old linemate Loui Eriksson was entirely a product of Brad's passing ability, and would suffer offensively with Benn at center.
That was the experts' prediction, anyways. The actual results: 44 points, including 17 goals, in 49 games: a 0.9 PPG average that is almost exactly the same as it was when Richards was sending succulent saucer passes his way.
In all fairness to Benn, however, those numbers include six games where Benn was out with an appendectomy.
What about the other guy, newcomer and Stanley Cup champion Michael Ryder? Ryder put up 18 goals and 23 assists last season with the Bruins, and this year has 18 goals and 17 assists ... in 30 fewer games. In the six games without Benn? Zero points.
And what about Steve Ott? Ever since Eriksson was moved to the Mike Ribeiro line, his place on Benn's wing has been taken over by the highly controversial and underrated Ott. In the four games he's played on Benn's line, Ott has four points — don't bother with the calculators, I'll just tell you that it's 1.00 PPG — and is a +3. That projects out to 82 points and a +62, which would put Ott in the Selke discussion for sure.
When it all comes down to it, Benn is the real deal, a 22-year old kid who does everything the way it's supposed to be done. Bruce Boudreau, who was given 2011's Biggest Shaft and is easily one of the top five coaches in hockey, said this about Benn before he torched his Ducks for three points and a game-winning goal last night: "I think he's one of the finest young players in the league that nobody knows about. If this kid was in Toronto, they'd be making statues of him."
So is he the next Modano?
Of course not. Modano was drafted first overall. Benn was picked 129th overall, after such first-ballot HoFers as Thomas Hickey (4th overall), Kyle Turris (3rd overall), and Milan Kytnar (127th). Obviously, in terms of sheer "talent" (the most misused term in hockey, just above the completely meaningless "consistency"), there's no contest.
But in terms of effort, upside, and the willingness to stand up for your teammates? That's another story.