Versatile forward Smith valuable to Blackhawks
|Chase Agnello-Dean / Chicago Blackhawks|
CHICAGO -- Forward Ben Smith started this season seeking an everyday role for the Chicago Blackhawks. He wound up with a couple of important ones for the NHL's defending champions in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Smith started out at right wing on the fourth line, where he spent most of the regular season. But he has worked his way into centering the second line as this series progressed. The dual roles started with Quenneville making the change in the second period of Game 2 and continuing to flip-flop Smith between a checking line and scoring unit for Games 3 and 4.
Smith started out on the second line in Game 5 and scored Chicago's second goal in the 3-2 overtime victory.
"I try and prepare for both [roles], because you never know where you're going to be throughout the lineup, whether it's left wing, right wing or center," said Smith, who has one goal, one assist and a plus-2 rating. "[You] just try and get prepared for each shift and each shift try and get your thoughts [and] say what you want to accomplish the next 30 or 40 seconds. That, for me, helps get my mind right."
His ability to bounce around the lineup, adjusting to different roles and still being effective, is likely to help his career in the long term. Coaches love flexibility in their lineup, and Smith is proving he's able to give that to one of the NHL's best.
"It’s a great asset to have as a player," Quenneville said. "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."
When Smith plays right wing on the fourth line, the responsibilities are primarily checking against the opposing team's top line or second forward group, which usually have talented players to stop. The job calls for grit, determination and toughness first and foremost.
When Smith plays center on the second line, it's a new set of requirements. He takes more faceoffs, still has to defend on all 200 feet of the ice, and needs to bring something to the mix offensively. Smith's biggest assets on the offensive end are his speed and determination to get to the net for rebounds, which seems to work well with top-end forwards Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa.
Sharp and Kane have flanked him on the second line most against the Blues, and Smith was on the ice for Kane's game-winning goal 11:17 into overtime of Game 4 at United Center.
"It’s tough to beat playing with those two, I think," Smith said. "It’s fun. We were just talking on the bench [in Game 4]. We were having a good time. We were rolling, having the puck a lot. It was only a matter of time, we thought, [before] it was going to happen, and sure enough, [Kane] made it happen."
The Blackhawks have been searching for a center to play most of the time on their second line, which probably makes that spot one of the most coveted jobs in the NHL. Smith, whose contract will expire this offseason, is trying not to think too far ahead.
"I don't look at it that way, as if I'm trying to take a role and run with it," he said. "For me, I'm just trying to help the team win, and if that's where I'm put, I'll work my hardest and do what I have to do to help the team be successful."