NHL Playoff Push: Benn Powering Dallas Stars in Ultra Tight Western Conference

Ryan KennedyContributor IMarch 23, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 7:  Jamie Benn #14 of the Dallas Stars gets the puck past goalie Jonathan Bernier #35 of the Los Angeles Kings to score a shorthanded breakaway goal in the third period at Staples Center on March 7, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.   The Stars won 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Nearly a month ago, I, along with tons of other Dallas Stars' fans, was left scratching my head after James Neal and Matt Niskanen were dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins for defensemen Alex Goligoski.

Fast forward to present day, and Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk looks like an absolute genius.

Most members of the media, and just about every Dallas Stars fan, were calling for their GM's head after seemingly overpaying for an unproven player in Goligoski. Neal was a young, up and coming power forward with back-to-back 20-goal seasons for Dallas, while Niskanen, despite his recent struggles, at one point was considered a very good prospect himself.  

Since arriving in the Lone Star state, Goligoski has nine points in 13 games. Over in Pittsburgh, Neal and Niskanen have combined for a total of six points. These stats alone, up to this point, look to have Dallas as the winner of this trade. But the addition of Goligoski isn't the only way the Stars are reaping the benefit of this trade.

Since the trading of Neal, youngster Jamie Benn has been on an absolute tear for the Dallas Stars. After missing most of February with an injury, Benn has 15 points in 13 games. He currently carries a 10-game point streak into tonight's game versus Anaheim.

Not only has Benn been contributing offensively for Dallas, but he has been a key cog all season on their penalty kill. He currently has four shorthanded goals on the season and is rounding out into one of the best young two-way forwards in the game.

Benn is, without a doubt, benefiting from the subtraction of Neal.

Before the Neal trade, Benn only saw more then 20 minutes of ice time twice in 46 games. In the last 13 games, Benn has only seen under 20 minutes of ice time three times, none lower then the 18:16 he logged versus Minnesota on March 11.

It may also be worth noting that Benn had points in all three of those games. He is averaging roughly six to seven more minutes after the Neal trade, and has 48 total points on the season. He is only one goal shy of his rookie season last year (22) and has already set a new career high in assists (27) and points.

Now, I couldn't tell you if Nieuwendyk traded Neal because he knew Benn was this good. If he honestly had no idea and made that trade strictly to give Dallas a young, power-play quarterback in Goligoski, he should probably just go with it and consider himself fortunate.

If Benn continues to grow at his current pace (or even a step under) alongside Loui Erikksson, Mike Ribiero, Brad Richards (for now), Brendan Morrow and blue chipper Scott Glennie, the names Neal and Niskanen will soon be an after thought in the Big D.

Of the Stars remaining 10 games, seven of them are against playoff teams, and five of them are within the division. In the ultra tight Western Conference, every point counts between now and April (unless, of course, you are the Canucks). But with a healthy Brad Richards, the addition of Goligoski, strong goaltending from Kari Lehtonen and the white hot Benn, the Dallas Stars are looking to make their case for spot in the gauntlet for Lord Stanley.