by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
Class was in session for the Texas Stars last week. Rookie forward Jamie Benn and his teammates cracked open the books on the Chicago Wolves in advance of the West Division finals between the teams.
"It should be a tough series, but it should be pretty fun," Benn said. "It’s something new. But that’s why we’re here preparing for this team. Now you just go into the game and just play."
While scouting reports may have their advantages, perhaps the less Benn knows about any Stars opponent or even the league in general the better.
Combining the wonderment of a newcomer and the steeliness of a bill collector, Benn, 20, has been Texas’ true gift from above this postseason. After playing the full season with Dallas, where he posted 22 goals and 19 assists in 82 games, he’s come to the farm team for a little spring break in the AHL.
Despite having never played a second in the league and knowing almost nothing about the competition, his adjustment period passed in the time it took to find his new rink. He scored in his first AHL contest — Game 1 of the opening series against Rockford — and produced three goals and three assists in the sweep. He then added a goal and an assist in the Stars’ 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 of the Wolves series.
Playoff experience? Sure thing. The 6-foot-2, 207-pound Benn will experience putting up points and Texas will experience winning.
"It was a challenge. But these are the most fun times," he said of his debut. "I had the adrenaline pumping. I felt pretty good out there. I had the first goal, and I just ran with it."
Texas coach Glen Gulutzan saw this type of storm gathering strength months ago. Really, he did. Gulutzan watched Benn in the Traverse City rookie tournament last preseason and was struck by the prospect’s bear trap of a mind. You told him something, he went out and did it. And then he did it again, only much better.
"I could tell right away he could implement the way you want to play on his first shift," Gulutzan said. "He’s a real cerebral player. He can use his size and strength. He’s strong on the puck. He can make plays in tight. He’s a well-rounded player."
Benn’s center stage background was beyond question. He won a gold medal at the 2009 World Juniors with Team Canada and then finished fifth overall in the WHL and led Kelowna with 46 goals in 56 games. He took Kelowna to the Memorial Cup Finals with a league-leading 33 points in 19 games.
"I got to play in some pretty big games. That helps you out down the road knowing what to expect, how to control your emotions," he said.
That would all be of use later, after Benn, a fifth-round pick in 2007, served his dutiful apprenticeship in the AHL. Check that. Benn went through Dallas’ preseason and proved the closest he needed to come to the AHL was looking up the standings on the Internet if he wanted.
"We had him pegged on our board in Texas. Any time you get a fifth-rounder impacting the NHL like Jamie Benn impacted it, you have to have some element of surprise," said Scott White, assistant GM of Dallas. "In training camp, he took advantage of his opportunities. He plays both sides of the puck and can finish. The kid’s a player."
There was always a Plan B, though, no matter how long it took to unfold. Dallas thought all along that if it didn’t make the Stanley Cup Playoffs, at least Benn would get a chance for some pro postseason flavoring with Texas.
"We value the playoff experience in the American Hockey League. For a player like Jamie Benn, the positives far outweigh the negatives," White said.
"I was excited to come down here and play some hockey. I prepared myself for it, and I was ready to go," Benn said. "It’s definitely a step up from the WHL (playoffs). It’s a lot more challenging, a lot more fast. I just want to have a good effort, bring out the best in what I can. It benefits me a lot."
Apart from the obvious bonus to Texas, Dallas wants to use the playoff run to test those parameters. Benn’s natural position is left wing. In the NHL, he tried center for the first time in his career. Now, he’s toggling between wing and center on something of a hybrid line along with Aaron Gagnon and Greg Rallo.
"That’s a good question," White said of where Benn will settle. "I think down the road, in the NHL, he’ll be center. I bet if you asked him to play D, he’d play D."
Gulutzan plans on exploiting that enthusiasm while he can. Wherever Benn winds up playing long-term, the coach is thinking that it’s very doubtful it will be in the AHL any time soon.
"You won’t see Jamie Benn in the American League after these playoffs, I’ll tell you that," Gulutzan said. "This is a one-shot deal for Jamie Benn."
Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.