Jamie Benn was 5-foot-3 in Grade 10.
Back then, little Jamie did not spend his summers shooting pucks off Plexiglas or building strength for the next season on the ice. Instead, he spent his summers playing baseball in his hometown of Victoria, B.C.
So, if you would have sat Benn down back then and told him one day he would win an NHL scoring title, he would have laughed at you.
“I would have said, ‘No chance,’” Benn said Monday in Toronto prior to his Dallas Stars game against the Maple Leafs, grinning, after a morning skate. “No chance.”
And if you ask the soft-spoken Dallas Stars captain today when he believed he could win the Art Ross Trophy, which he did in 2015, he’ll say it was only with a month or so left in the season, and he’ll give all the credit to his teammates.
No, Jamie Benn doesn’t exactly like talking about himself. When told Sportsnet is writing a profile story on him, Benn replied with: “Uh-oh.”
“He hates attention,” says his older brother, Jordie, the bearded Benn who plays the point in Dallas. “He’s a quiet guy. He doesn’t like this media stuff.”
The 26-year-old left-winger is having to do a lot more of that “stuff” these days, though. Through 11 games—yes, it’s early—Benn again leads the league in scoring, with nine goals and eight assists. (Second, with 16 points, is his centreman Tyler Seguin.)
“He’s unbelievable,” says teammate, Alex Goligoski. “He can play the game any way you want to play it. If it’s a real hard-nosed game, he can be the best player on the ice, and if it’s an up-and-down skill game, he can be the best player on the ice. For me, if I’m starting a team, he’s probably the guy I want on it right now.”
That’s a funny thing to say about a guy drafted 129th overall.
Unlike Kane and Crosby, this was not expected of Benn, a fifth-round draft pick in 2007, a guy you could describe as a late bloomer, in part because he had a late growth spurt and because he didn’t really dedicate himself to hockey until after high school. He smiles when it’s pointed out many believe he’s much better than anticipated.
“I mean, it really doesn’t matter what people say about ya,” he says. “Growin’ up, it was always, ‘He’s too small. He can’t skate.’”
Now 6-foot-2 and 210 lbs., Benn did a lot of growing that summer after Grade 10, but his skating remained a concern. The Red Line Report, an independent scouting agency, had this note on Benn ahead of the 2007 NHL Draft: “We’re not sure if he’s really that slow, or he just refuses to move.”
Benn played his draft year and the season before it with a Tier II junior team, his hometown Victoria Grizzlies of the BCHL, along with Toronto Maple Leafs centreman, Tyler Bozak. They played on a line together. “Pretty sure [Bozak] might still take credit for getting me drafted,” Benn says, smiling.
It does take effort to get noticed in Victoria, though. The city isn’t exactly crawling with scouts. It’s on Vancouver Island and is a ferry ride or plane trip from Vancouver—and it’s home to a Tier II junior team.
When Dallas made him their fifth-round pick in 2007, Benn swears he wasn’t sitting at home thinking the Stars just got a sweet deal. “Not at the time,” he says. “On that day, I was truly so happy to get drafted. For Dallas to take a chance on me like that? I was really on top of the world.”
It was the next season that Benn stopped playing baseball. (He played first, outfield and sometimes pitched for the Victoria Capitals, and was named MVP when the Capitals won the midget AAA provincial title.)
“It was tough,” Benn said of giving up baseball. “I always loved playing, and once hockey was over it was straight to baseball. But I think I always knew in the back of my head I was going to be a hockey player.”
Benn had committed to a hockey scholarship at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, but instead decided to play for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets for the 2007-08 season. It wasn’t until then that he started committing to hockey year-round, and working out in the off-season.
“After I got drafted I kind of took it more seriously,” he says. “I had a lot of great help in Kelowna playing for the Rockets, and finally figured out it was gonna take a lot of hard work to get to the NHL.”
After he won the World Junior title with Canada in 2009 and led all players in playoff scoring en route to a Memorial Cup appearance (Kelowna lost to Taylor Hall and the Windsor Spitfires), Benn played his first season in Dallas at age 20. Since his rookie season, he’s continued to improve.
“He’s obviously done wonders since he’s made the NHL,” Jordie says. “You’ll never hear him brag about it, though. Well, that’s a lie. I’m his brother so I hear him brag a little bit,” Jordie adds, smiling. “It’s nothin’ I’m gonna tell you about.”
Benn, who in 2013 was named the sixth captain in Dallas franchise history, may not talk about his play much, but he has nailed the captain-speak. With the Stars atop the Western Conference (11-9-2), he says there’s a different feeling to this season than seasons past.
“I think we’re at that point on the team where there are no excuses anymore,” he says. “It’s the year of no excuses, and we have the team to do it in here.”
Goligoski says as much as Benn has improved on ice, he’s grown most as a leader. “There’s no question this is his team. He’s a great leader. Every guy in here, you want to play for a captain like that.”
And though he’s pretty quiet and soft-spoken in interviews, he’s actually a pretty vocal captain, and a chatty teammate.
“Once all you [media] guys leave, then he talks,” Jordie says, smiling.
“He’s definitely hiding a personality,” the older Benn adds. “But you’ll never see it.”