Jamie Benn itching for start of Stars’ season

FRISCO, Texas — Jamie Benn has seen a lot of change in his first four seasons with the Dallas Stars. But even he admits the changes that have happened since the end of last season, with the club hiring a new general manager and head coach as well as bringing in a number of new players, have he and his teammates reinvigorated about the coming season.

“It’s been so many and such a busy summer for the Dallas Stars but I think the changes we’ve made have been made for the right reasons. Obviously, we’ve brought in Jim Nill who is an experienced guy. He knows that he needs for a hockey team to win. It starts with the coach and that’s where Lindy [Ruff] comes in. We’ve got a lot of experience behind the bench now. He’s a guy who’s been to the Stanley Cup Finals and he knows what it takes to win,” Benn said. “I think it’s exciting for the Dallas Stars. As far as the players, we’re excited about the new guys we got. We’ve still got a strong core around here. It’s going to be an interesting season. Hopefully we can gel quickly.”

Lindy Ruff is the third different head coach the 2012 All-Star has played for, joining Marc Crawford, who he laced ‘em up for as a rookie and Glen Gulutzan, who coached the Stars each of the last two years before replacing Crawford in June 2011.

And the Stars made big headlines this offseason not just with the hiring of Ruff, but before that the club hired a new GM in Jim Nill, unveiled a new logo and also pulled off trades to bring the likes of Tyler Seguin from Boston and Shawn Horcoff from Edmonton.

Of course, No. 14 has no idea who he will be skating with or how the lines will shake out in the coming season, Dallas’ first under Ruff, but he admits he’s looking forward to the start of training camp to when he can see all of his new teammates on the ice together for the first time.

“I don’t know who I’m going to be playing with right now but I’m looking forward to playing with everyone,” Benn said. “It’s going to be a fun year with all the new guys that we got and it’s going to be good to skate with all of them.”

And even though Jamie doesn’t yet know who his linemates will be this year, one thing he does know is that he will be returning to his more natural position of winger. He embraced playing center over the past year-plus under Gulutzan but admits that he does have a much higher comfort level when he plays out wide than he did in the middle of the ice.

“Back to wing. Yeah, I like left wing. It’s my natural position I think. I’m sure you might see me at center a couple games,” he said.

However, he does take a great deal of positives away from his time at center, namely the fact that he has improved significantly on face-offs and that playing center also helped improve his ability to pass the puck to open teammates.

“Yeah, I liked it. It was a good challenge,” Benn said. “If I was still there today or playing there this year, there’s still things that I can learn and get better at, face-offs being one obviously. But you definitely get the puck a lot more and are more of a passer than a shooter. It was a good experience and glad that I played there for a few years.”

But there is one change that is still yet to be made by the Stars before the puck drops on another season and that is naming a new captain. Dallas basically went without a captain after Brenden Morrow was traded to the Penguins before the 2013 NHL Trade Deadline and there are several strong candidates to wear the “C” for this coming season and beyond and it’s no surprise that this young talent’s name is at or near the top of the list.

That’s because Benn is one of the young guns who is a cornerstone of what the Stars are trying to do, stock the organization with mostly homegrown talent, players who will be fixtures in Dallas for many years to come.

However, while he thinks becoming captain would be cool, it isn’t something he’s losing any sleep over. “I haven’t thought about it too much. I’ll leave that up to the coaches, GM and whoever picks the captain,” he said. “But I know I’m a candidate for it I guess. I’d definitely be willing to step up and be a big-time leader.”

Like every player, he does have a specific set of criteria as to what qualities he feels a successful captain should have and not surprisingly, he fits the bill on nearly every one of those criteria.

“[He should be] a guy who comes to the rink every day and leads by example, works just as hard off the ice as he does on and just doing the right things away from the rink too,” Benn said.

Now heading into his fifth season, No. 14 has yet to experience playoff hockey at the NHL level as the Stars are currently five years removed from their last trip to the postseason in 2008. Helping to end that drought definitely helped give him some extra motivation during his off-season workouts over the summer.

“Just working hard in the gym, getting better at certain things and just preparing myself for a full year this year and not just a half year,” Benn said was his focus during the off-season.

And as if he needed any extra fire to prepare for the upcoming season, he was also not invited to participate in a camp with Team Canada this summer in advance of their Olympic Orientation Camp, something else which he admits has given him a little added motivation as he looks to begin ramping up to this, his fifth season in the NHL.

“It definitely sparked me up a bit. It’s not an easy team to make and they obviously have a lot of hard decisions to pick who goes to camp and whatever and who makes the team. It’s out of my control,” Benn said. “All I can do is go out there and be the player that I am and be the best hockey player for the Dallas Stars.”