Since Jamie Benn has been back, the young forward has seen a ton of ice time on up to 3 lines per game. He plays on the PK, the PP, at least 2 different lines and is producing at a fever-pace. And while the goal-per-game pitch he’s moving at right now is enough to merit more ice time, I can’t help but muse that it could be more.
Is this a test being thrown at Benn by management to see if he’s a strong enough winger to fill in the hole on the Richards line that is left by the departed Neal or are the Stars going to be looking for someone else to fill that hole? Crawford seems dead-set on keeping Ribeiro and Morrow together and I don’t think any of the other forwards really have what it takes to merit being moved to the top line. Sure, you could fill the hole with some paste. Someone like Steve Ott would be a serviceable scorer and Langenbrunner could fill the grit department on the line by forechecking and taking up room in the crease. But, a top line is a top line and for most of the season the Stars have seen a majority of their scoring come from said line. Neal disappeared for large portions of the season and we are seeing that he hasn’t found his stride in Pittsburgh either, despite all of the support they are giving him. The whole “He’ll be playing with Crosby, for sure” idea rolling off of every hockey analysts tongue should be enough to give him the confidence he seems to lose on and off and yet here we are… seeing that he hasn’t re-emerged from his slumber yet in the north on a hungry Penguins team.
I’ve said it since the beginning, if you put Benn on a line with a guy like Richards for an entire season he scores 30 easy; possibly 40. He has the skills to do it on his own, give him an all-star playmaker to set him up and there really isn’t a limit to what this kid can do. The biggest downside to the kid in his early career is that he didn’t seem to realize just how good he was. Most agreed that once he realized how he could control a game even when the top defenders were on him or the top offensive players were carrying the puck, he would emerge as a premier skill-forward in the league. Since his return from the shoulder injury he has dominated every shift at will, man-handling whoever the opposition throws at him; getting scoring chances on seemingly every shift. Look up and it’s Wandell or Williams or Petersen out there on the ice and you wonder what he can do with Richards.
So is all of this ice time really just them trying to get a feel for how the kid is going to handle top-line minutes, power-play minutes and possibly still PK minutes? I don’t see why not… who else is going to fill that void? Can the Stars really afford to have Benn remain stuck on a 3rd line most of the time when there is a perfectly open spot on the number one line for him? Ribeiro may seek out Morrow before his second winger, but Richards is going to find whoever is open and if Benn can be that guy then you can’t help but think that it could be one of the best forward lines in the history of the franchise considering the make-up of a Loui/Benn/Brad combo.
So as Benn scores his 16th goal of the season on a pace to easily pass his 22 goal rookie year – we all watch and wait for Brad Richards to come back into the line-up and see just what Crawford does with the second winger slot on the first line. You have my opinion, what do you think?