Blackhawks' Ben Smith making most of his opportunity

Ben Smith of the Chicago Blackhawks brings the puck up the ice during action against the Columbus...

Ben Smith of the Chicago Blackhawks brings the puck up the ice during action against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the United Center March 6, 2014 in Chicago. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images/AFP)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:35 PM ET

There must be at least 100 NHLers who’d love the opportunity Ben Smith receives.

Even if it’s only in small doses for the Chicago Blackhawks forward.

Most games, Smith skates on the fourth line as a winger for the defending Stanley Cup champs.

Sometimes, though, the 25-year-old is bumped to a more lucrative spot, at centre on the second line. It was the case near the end of Game 4 of his team’s series against the St. Louis Blues, and he played a part in Patrick Kane’s overtime winner that tied the series.

Just imagine how many players already in the NHL would clamour for that kind of shot.

“Oh, I don’t look at it that way, as if I’m trying to take a role and run with it,” Smith said on Friday after the morning skate in preparation for the critical Game 5 clash in St. Louis. “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.”

It seems every year the Hawks bring another player through their system into the Stanley Cup chase and they make their mark.

The Boston College product in his fourth pro season, had just 20 NHL games prior to this campaign, plus eight playoff contests.

This year, the 2008 sixth-round draft choice who was born in Winston-Salem, N.C., and raised in Avon, Conn., made the jump to full-time NHLer, and collected 14 goals and 26 points in 75 games. He went into Friday’s clash with one assist in four playoff outings.

Moreover, he’s provided another option for a team which has been desperately searching for a true second-line centre.

“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,” Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville said. “You like the way he competes. He’s a good pro. (His versatility is) a great asset to have as a player. Being a multi-tasker 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.”

Bouncing between lines and positions is certainly something most players are willing to try, but not all can excel at.

“It keeps me guessing, keeps me mentally involved in the game when I’ve got to be switching back and forth. I enjoy it,” Smith said. “The best way to approach it is go out and play your game. Don’t try and change your game too much, other than where you need to be on the ice. But really, in the offensive zone and the neutral zone, just try and keep the puck deep, get pucks deep behind their defencemen and go in there and get it.”

TARASENKO TRIBUTE

When it comes to goals in the playoffs, nobody really worries about the how. How many is important enough.

Still, there’s something to be said about the way Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko has been lighting lamps.

Tarasenko, whose four goals going into Friday’s clash led all NHLers in the playoffs, has scored three times with long wristers and pinpoint accuracy.

“He has patience where most people panic. He knows where to shoot it, he kind of shoots it where the goalie isn’t ... he’s good at it,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “He’s more than just a goal scorer, he’s a complete player. He’s willing to check to get his chances, he’s competitive in the right areas. He is smart. When he gets the opportunity to fire away, this isn’t just shooting it for the middle of the net. He knows exactly where it’s going. He knows which way the goalie is learning. For whatever reason, he’s able to get himself some space in the zone, which is pretty unique for such a young player.”

To think, Tarasenko — the No. 16 pick in the 2010 draft — missed the final three weeks due to a hand injury that required surgery.

“We want the puck on his stick as much as possible,” teammate T.J. Oshie said. “He can shoot the puck like no one I’ve ever played with. He’s a great player, I’m just glad he’s on our side.”

LINE OF THE DAY

Two months ago, Hitchcock was part of the coaching staff that guided Canada to gold at the Sochi Games.

Now he’s trying to figure out a way to shut down Chicago’s talented trio from that squad: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith.

“I hugged them then. I’d like to kick them in the ass now, to be honest with you,” Hitchcock said.


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