Thursday, April 24, 2014
Smith doing whatever it takes for Hawks
By Scott Powers
CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks forward Ben Smith's role and position has changed so often recently that he has found it easier if he makes a mental checklist of what exactly he's supposed to be doing before he takes the ice.
Ben Smith has done everything he can to find a permanent place in the NHL, and now he's one of the Hawks' most versatile players.
Smith has rotated between playing right wing on the fourth line and playing center on the second line as of late. They're completely different roles -- being on the fourth line requires him to focus almost entirely on defense, while being on the second line provides a much larger offensive opportunity -- and require two different mindsets. To make it even more challenging, he has been told at times to switch roles from one shift to another.
"Well, for me, you never really know when you're going to be thrown out there on what position," Smith said Thursday. "It's fun. It's fun for me. It keeps me guessing a little bit on the bench.
"Just trying to have some quick reminders for me before shifts, before faceoffs. 'Hey, you're playing right wing. This is your job.' And then when I'm taking draws and playing center, just trying to go through what I want to do on the shift and where I want to be."
In all, Smith played 25 shifts and 14:04 of ice time. He played 5:52 and 12 shifts through the first two periods on the fourth line and played 8:12 and 13 shifts on the second line from the third period on. He had one assist, a zero rating and was third on the team with a 74.1 Corsi percentage (the Blackhawks had 20 shots for and seven against when he was on the ice in 5-on-5 situations).
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Smith's game allows him to play in many different spots.
"The one thing about Benny, he's versatile in a lot of ways, can play left, can play right, can play a defensive role can play a little offensive role as well," Quenneville said. "You like the way he competes -- good pro.
"[His versatility is] a great asset to have as a player. Being a multitasker is a great tribute to certain guys. You get more quality ice time, you get more ice time, you have a longer career because you have more opportunities. He's done a nice job."
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews has also been impressed by Smith as he has adapted to various roles.
"You've got to give him credit for his ability to be ready for anything, but knowing Smitty and the way he prepares to play, it's no surprise to me," Toews said. "He's ready to go, whatever role, whether he's getting a lot of ice time or maybe not too much. He's ready to play well and be effective any way he can when he's on the ice, and I think that's just his attitude and his work ethic, and he's another guy that we need to be playing well, and he's going out there and any way, shape or form, he's trying to be effective."
Smith has fought the past few seasons to earn a permanent place in the NHL. Now that he's there, he is willing to do whatever it takes to stay whether it's second line, fourth line or whatever else.
"As I said all along, just trying to help the team however I can and play with confidence, whether it's being on checking line or PK or stepping up to playing with those guys playing center," Smith said. "It's been fun. We'll see where it goes from here."