Jamie Benn usually keeps his answers short and to the point in interviews, but he bordered on loquacious as he talked with the media Friday about his new contract and getting back on the ice with his Dallas Stars teammates.
Benn, who agreed to a five-year, $26.25 million contract on Thursday, practiced with the team for the first time this season on Friday.
“It’s great to be back in here and skate with the guys,” said Benn. “I had a great first practice.”
And he was happy to be under contract for five years.
“It’s really great that Tom [Gaglardi, owner], Joe [Nieuwendyk, GM] and the Dallas Stars organization believe in me,” he said. “I’m happy that I’m a Star for five more years and I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
It’s been a while since Benn has been on the ice with his Dallas teammates. He last played for the Stars in April 2012, when the Stars closed out the 2011-12 campaign against the St. Louis Blues. A lot has changed.
Gone are long-time Stars like Steve Ott and Mike Ribeiro. In the mix now are Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney and Derek Roy. Ironically, Jagr, Whitney and Roy weren’t on the ice for Benn’s first practice. Jagr was nursing a stiff back; Whitney and Roy took maintenance days. But that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of Benn, who had been watching the team from afar.
“I’ve watched every game, but I missed last night because I was traveling,” he said. “The guys look like they have some good chemistry with the new guys. It’s an exciting time with the new players they brought in and I am looking forward to getting out there and battling with them.
“I’m not too sure who I am more excited to be playing with – Jagr, Whitney or my brother again. Having Ray and Jaromir here is something very special for the Dallas organization. It’s going to be fun to learn from them, and see how they go about their business.”
Jamie’s excitement about playing with his brother, Jordie, is equally high. The two played three NHL games together last season. This season, Jordie earned himself one of the roster spots on defense for the Stars. Not bad for a guy who was playing in the Central Hockey League a few seasons ago.
“I am pretty excited to be out there and skating with him again,” Benn said. “He’s worked so hard to be here. I am pretty proud of him.”
The on-ice reunion with his brother and the new friendships come after a tough negotiation with the Stars over the new contract. Benn played an active role in the process, which was no joy ride. And it led to him missing training camp and not being with the team for the first four games of the season.
“Me and my agent talked quite a bit and I had a lot of input in how the deal went and stuff, and he was there to negotiate,” Benn said. “It wasn’t easy and it was pretty stressful, but it was good to get a deal done.”
Although the deal is done, Benn is not expected to play Saturday against St. Louis. There is immigration paperwork to navigate. The hope is everything will be in order for him to play Monday in Columbus.
“I am going to definitely push myself in these three practices I get, hopefully I can get in there Monday and jump right into it,” Benn said. “Be a top six guy and contribute.”
Benn wasn’t sure who he’d be playing with once he gets into the lineup. The Stars didn’t really run lines in Friday’s practice, so Benn didn’t skate with anyone in particular. Stars coach Glen Gulutzan, obviously, has given it some thought.
“He’s going to play in the middle, probably with Whitney and (Michael) Ryder,” Gulutzan said. “Then we’ll go from there and see what lines are rolling, who is healthy and who is not.”
It’s been about a month since Benn has seen any game action. He played with the Hamburg Freezers in Germany during the lockout. Recently, he’s been skating with the Victoria Royals of the Western Hockey League, so he’ll need to get up to game speed.
“It was pretty good. He didn’t look too, too bad,” Gulutzan said of Benn’s first practice. “He looked fine out there. We’ve got a few days with him to get him up to speed.”
And Benn’s looking forward to that. But for now, he’s just glad to be among his teammates again, which he considers to be the highlight of his return to the Dallas Stars.
“Being in the dressing room and being around the guys (is the best part of being back),” Benn said. “I’ve made a bunch of great friends my first three years here, and I am looking forward to getting to know the new guys.”