When the Team Canada Olympic roster was announced in 2010, there was one name that stood out amongst the many offensive dynamos: Brenden Morrow. Don Cherry had campaigned for him on Coach’s Corner leading up to selection day, but I wasn’t sure about bringing who was known as ‘The Guy Dallas Made Captain While Modano Was Still On The Team’ over players such as Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis (both were reserves) and even teammate Brad Richards.
Let’s just say that in choosing the gritty, hardworking yet skilled Morrow, GM Steve Yzerman got it right. Here’s to him doing it again, and while what made Morrow special is perhaps what has made the 34 year old already a shell of what he once was, his incumbent in Dallas might just be the perfect replacement – Jamie Benn.
As of this writing, Benn sits tied for 23rd in NHL scoring with 16 points, alongside other stars such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Jason Spezza, and linemate Tyler Seguin. But like Morrow, Benn’s contributions are not only of the offensive variety.
Like Morrow, Benn hits, leading Stars forwards with 31 in 17 games. Listed at 6’2″, 210 pounds, it can be assumed he hits hard. Hits as a counting stat can be deceiving, since it might mean you’ve played a significant amount of time without the puck, and can be questioned due to the fact that some rinks have a different definition of a hit than others. Yet when just comparing to teammates, who’ve presumably played with the same amount (or lack) of possession in the same arenas, it signifies a player who is willing to make opponents pay the price. Canada has always loved to play a tough game down low in the opponents end, and a big body like Benn’s will help the forecheck and cycle game no doubt.
Another aspect of Morrow’s game that was much appreciated in Vancouver was his willingness to block shots. When constructing a team of superstars, it’s not easy to find guys who will risk injury to get in front of an Zdeno Chara one-timer, which is another reason to believe Jamie Benn would be a fine choice come selection time.
Benn currently sits tied for 5th in the NHL amongst forwards in blocked shots with 18. Of the top 10, the only player who brings the amount of skill required to be considered for Sochi aside from Benn is Logan Couture, who has been making his own case for Olympic consideration with 16 points himself.
Benn also has a lot of experience playing the wing, as he has all season, flanking newcomer Tyler Seguin. Along with Morrow from the 2010 team, it seems reasonable to assume that wingers Dany Heatley and Jarome Iginla won’t be on the 2014 roster, and Rick Nash hasn’t played all year due to the dreaded concussion. Patrick Marleau is 34.
Canada will have plenty of potential replacements to choose from (St. Louis, Couture, Taylor Hall, Matt Duchene, and Claude Giroux just to name a few), but of those, only St. Louis and Hall are natural wingers.
The transition from centre to wing isn’t as hard as it is from wing to centre, but it’s not as easy as one might think. Wingers have to be first on the forecheck, not always getting the puck but at least getting their man, and are also responsible for one of the toughest jobs in hockey: getting the puck out of the zone with a pinching defenseman getting ready to slam into you. Benn is more than capable of performing these duties on the Olympic stage.
Benn is highly skilled (as he showed in a YouTube Hall of Fame worthy goal against Columbus in 2011) and he’s willing to use his big body to help out in more ways than one, but he’s also a great leader. When he was made captain of the Stars heading into the 2013-2014 season, Stars General Manager Jim Nill said to the press at the time, “Jamie Benn has gone from being an exciting up-and-coming player in the NHL, to being a cornerstone of the franchise. He conducts himself each and every day in a professional way and continually leads by example.”
Yzerman invited 25 forwards to the Olympic Orientation camp in August. Benn was not one of them. Andrew Ladd, Brad Marchand and Chris Kunitz all got called in ahead of Benn, which leads me to believe his selection for Sochi is quite unlikely. But not quite as unlikely as getting a franchise player out of a 5th round draft pick. Which he was. Even less likely would be that 5th round draft pick making the NHL straight out of junior. Which he did.
Mr. Yzerman, the rest is up to you.
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