It is far from ideal, but for the Dallas Stars it is necessary.
Putting a team’s best player on the penalty kill is a big risk, but the Stars are making the right choice by putting Jamie Benn on the ice with a man in the box.
The Stars have more than enough role players who do well on the penalty kill. Vernon Fiddler heads the unit and is usually the first forward out on the ice with a man in the box. Antoinne Roussel’s tenacity and aggressive puck pursuit make him a key piece of the unit as well. Cody Eakin, Ryan Garbutt and veterans Shawn Horcoff and Rich Peverley are also very reliable when down a man.
Benn could be kept off of the penalty kill units to ensure his ice time and skills are utilized more at full strength or the power play, but he provides an added dimension to the PK. Benn’s patience, skating and strong body allow him to get in position quickly and force opponents off the puck. He is very good at winning battles along the boards and getting his stick or body in shooting lanes.
The best part of having Benn on the penalty kill is he is a constant threat to score a short-handed goal. Since he is very strong on the puck, he tends to skate the puck out of the zone more than just clearing it. He will skate the puck out, assess the situation and take it down the ice if he has an opportunity. This keeps the opponents honest and wary of turnovers. He was also used on Team Canada’s penalty kill during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, and did not look at all out of place.
Benn has scored six short-handed goals in his career and added four assists. His performance on the penalty kill against the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 27 demonstrated exactly what he brings to the table. He skated the puck out of the zone and down the ice twice, and both resulted in short-handed goals for the Stars. He drew the attention of three Hurricanes on one rush, and Brenden Dillon took the open ice and buried a loose puck for one of the goals. For the second goal, Benn intercepted a pass in his own zone, single-handedly skated up the ice through the Hurricanes and deked out the goaltender for his first short-handed goal of the season.
The biggest risk of putting Benn on the penalty kill is the possibility of injury. Putting the team’s captain in front of blasts from the blue line or half-boards is big risk, especially considering how instrumental he is to the Stars’ chances at making the playoffs this season. In this case, the reward outweighs the risk. An improvement in killing penalties and the threat of scoring short-handed goals is bigger than the outside chance of an injury off a blocked shot.
As valuable as Benn’s goal-scoring and power play presence is to the Stars, his involvement on the penalty kill is just as important and will help the team down the final stretch.