5 Questions: Jamie Benn sees bright future for Stars

Young forward Jamie Benn is happy in Dallas and excited about the Stars' future, writes CBCSports.ca's Doug Harrison, despite the fact the team traded away some productive veteran forwards during a playoff race.

Young players contribute to playoff push

Jamie Benn, left, says living the NHL dream with his brother Jordie by his side this season has been surreal. "It's a dream come true for us and we're taking it all in." (LM Otero/Associated Press)

Hockey fans in Dallas shouldn’t expect Jamie Benn to tell the hockey world, a la Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, that his "contract sucks" and he would scrap it given the chance in hopes of facilitating a trade.

The 23-year-old forward is in for the long haul after signing a five-year contract extension in January worth $26.25 million US. It’ll take more than dealing veteran forwards like Jaromir Jagr, Brenden Morrow, Derek Roy and Michael Ryder to bring the Victoria native down.

"We’re going in the right direction," Benn said in a phone interview on the eve of Friday’s game in Nashville. "I’ve seen all the young guys that have come in this year and done such a good job, so it’s exciting for us. The next few years are going to be exciting for the Dallas Stars."

Dallas received veteran winger Erik Cole along with four young players, a 2013 second-round draft pick, a condtional 2013 second-rounder and a fifth-round selection this summer in exchange for the aforementioned players.

Despite the fire sale, Dallas entered Friday only three points out of a playoff spot with a 19-17-3 record and leaning more on less-experienced NHLers like forward Ryan Garbutt and defencemen Philip Larsen and Jordie Benn, Jamie’s brother, down the stretch. Alex Chiasson, a 22-year-old winger, has been an immediate fit in Jagr’s spot on a line with 40-year-old Ray Whitney and Jamie Benn.

The Stars have won all three of their starts since the April 3 trade deadline, outscoring San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles by a 13-6 margin.

"We have a tight group here in Dallas," Benn said. "It was good to get away last week and go to California, bond as a group and I think it’s paid off. There’s definitely a change in our game.

"The young guys are excited to play every night. We don’t have the superstars anymore so we’re not going to outskill teams every night but we can outwork teams and it comes down to winning the battles. … Having some success now is exciting and we’re making a good push for the playoffs."

CBCSports.ca also talked to Benn about the lessons learned playing with Jagr, sacrifices he’s made to become a better player and living the NHL dream with his brother.

1. What did skating with Jaromir Jagr teach you about being a professional in the NHL and how did you learn new ways to become a better leader?

Benn: The biggest [lesson learned] was how badly do you want [to win] and be the best because saying it is one thing but doing it, putting in the time and sacrificing [things] is another. It’s not easy but it can be fun and you have to do whatever it takes to be the best.

We [as players] couldn’t believe he was doing two-a-day [workouts]. He would go back to the rink at night and skate by himself and work out. That’s Jaromir Jagr, that’s putting in the time and effort to get better and be the best player you can be.

2. What changes have you made in three-plus NHL seasons to do what it takes to become a better player?

As you grow and mature as a player and person there’s definitely things you change in your off-season training. There’s definitely things I don’t do now that I used to like partying too much in the summer and not working out hard enough. Not everyone gets to do what we do and you can’t take it for granted. You still have to work hard but also have fun.

3. While you racked up the points playing with Jagr, his presence meant that you rarely led a rush up the ice or took the puck and skated around two or three players to get to the net. Has his departure allowed you to return to playing the style of game fans are used to seeing you play?

Maybe a little bit. Jaromir Jagr’s a pretty special player and you have to change your game a bit to play with him. Without him now, I’m definitely playing more direct and I think our whole team is committed to doing the right things [on the ice] and we’re going in the right direction.

4. You missed the first five games of the season because of contract talks and the team grabbed only five of a possible 10 points in those games, the difference between being in playoff position now. Could something have been done differently to finalize the contract earlier so you wouldn’t have had to miss games?

This contract took time just like the [NHL] lockout. There’s definitely games this year that we should have won when I was [in the lineup] and games we won that we had no business being in. It’s all part of hockey and I definitely don’t look back at [that time with regret].

5. How has the relationship with your brother Jordie grown this season playing together on the same team and how have you helped each other through the tough times?

The experience is something else. To have a brother in the NHL is special but to have him on the same team is pretty surreal. We’re pretty tight off the ice anyways but our relationship has definitely grown. We’re living together and experiencing this [NHL] life together. It’s a dream come true for us and we’re taking it all in.

[Having] been in the league a few more years than him I can definitely help him in key situations. With me being a forward and him a defenceman, I let him know the instincts I would have on certain plays and to watch out for certain guys on the ice and [their tendencies]. He’s a good player so I don’t have to tell him much.