Ben Bishop, Jakob Silfverberg, Derek Grant, Patrick Wiercioch, David Dziurzynski, Mika Zibanejad, Eric Gryba and Andre Benoit have assisted the Ottawa Senators cause big time in the absence of injured star players like Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson, Milan Michalek and goalie Craig Anderson.
This aforementioned group also began the 2012-13 season with the AHL Binghamton Senators and hit the ground running once they each got a shot at life in the NHL.
For example, the 29-year-old Benoit enjoyed his best start to a season when the NHL lockout ended. But where the defenceman differs from his other young seven teammates, aged 25 or younger, is that Benoit not only is older, wiser and more experienced, he was more of a long shot to become an NHL regular because of the stage he is at in his career.
"You just stick with it," Benoit said the other day, when asked to explain how he earned a full-time gig in the NHL after 7 ½ combined seasons in the AHL, Finland, Sweden and Russia. "I guess I always had hope that I could play [in the NHL] if I got the chance."No guarantees
He also knows that just because he's been with the Senators since the start of the lockout shortened season there is no guarantee he'll finish the year in the NHL. Benoit has been banished to the press box on four occasions this season as a healthy scratch, but the opportunity has been expanded now that Karlsson has been lost for the year with his nasty lacerated Achilles tendon injury.
"It was really unfortunate what happened to him," Benoit said. "He's such a great player and was probably playing his best hockey. It's going to be tough without him, but we just need to pull together to keep us on the right track."
After the initial shock of the Karlsson injury wore off, the Senators have put themselves back on the right track. Their 2-1 shootout win over the visiting Montreal Canadiens on Monday was their fifth victory in a row.
The 5-foot-11, 191-pound Benoit scored his first career goal last week, a game-winner in the Senators 3-1 victory over the New York Islanders. It should have been his second NHL goal, but a couple weeks earlier he had one disallowed because of a questionable goaltender-interference call on Silfverberg in another game against Montreal.
Oh well, like becoming a 29-year-old rookie sometimes the wait is worth it. Even though he was an outstanding junior with the Kitchener Rangers, where in five years he set the franchise record for points by a defenceman with 299 in 324 regular season games, Benoit went undrafted.
At the time, the AHL became his goal. He earned a spot on the Canadiens' farm club in Hamilton. After two years there, he went to Europe for a season in Finland, followed up with another in Sweden.
"How do I explain that decision?" Benoit said. "I wanted to go the Brian Rafalski route. Sometimes when you're not drafted you don't get the proper chance. It was a great experience there and I continued to improve."
His wife Kelly had the couple's first daughter Emma, now four, in Europe. Their second daughter Hailey was born last year. After Sweden, Benoit returned to play for Hamilton in 2009-10. Then the Ottawa Senators signed the nearby native of St. Albert, Ont. the following year.
Finally, he was called up for his first NHL game on Feb. 18, 2011 against the Boston Bruins, but the stint lasted only three games followed by five more later in the season.
"It was nice to play that first game in Ottawa because I had so many friends and family there to watch," said Benoit, who played in Russia last year before agreeing to return to the Senators organization again last summer.
Yes, he has bounced around. But championships seem to follow him, too. He won a Memorial Cup championship with Kitchener in 2002-03 and Calder Cups with Hamilton and Binghamton in 2006-07 and 2010-11, respectively.
"I've been fortunate to play in so many big games for so many championships," Benoit said.
All the games this season have taken on more importance, too.
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