A few months ago, I wrote about how Ben Smith was the dark horse role player for the Chicago Blackhawks. Smith, who was a Black Ace last season, has been a regular with the team the entire year. Now that the playoffs have started, the North Carolina-born Smith’s versatility is paying off when the Blackhawks need some good old-fashioned versatility. In this series against the St. Louis Blues, Smith is thriving.
During the regular season, Smith usually played wing on the fourth line with Brandon Bollig and Marcus Kruger. He’s been doing the same thing, but he’s also been playing center in between Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. He also centered a line between Sharp and Patrick Kane, and he was on the ice when Kane scored his game-winning goal. Not too shabby.
While I keep criticizing the Hawks for keeping Michal Handzus in, Smith has been impressive, and his teammates aren’t surprised at all. “He’s ready to go, whatever role, whether he’s getting a lot of ice time or maybe not too much,” Jonathan Toews told the media. “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. He’s another guy that we need to be playing well. He’s going out there and in any way, shape or form, he’s trying to be effective.”
Of course, Smith has to be alert whether on the ice or on the bench; his added ice time requires it. Since he’s been shuffling between the AHL and the United Center for the past several years, it’s especially impressive and a testament to what can happen if a prospect can be given room to prosper. He showed that in Game 2, showing moments of brilliance as he chased down Blues players and the puck.
The Hawks need all the role players they can get, and Smith is the right man for the job. There’s a reason I called him a dark horse role player, and he’s showing exactly why he’s that dark horse role player. He should have been the second star of Game 4 instead of Vladimir Tarasenko.