Ben Smith felt a big weight go off his shoulders when he deflected a Jimmy Hayes shot for a goal in the Blackhawks’ preseason opener on Tuesday night.
“It’s a process,” Smith said. “I just want to build off that on Thursday if I’m playing.”
Chances are Smith will be playing. The Blackhawks have four preseason games in the next five days, and coach Joel Quenneville said “a very good portion” of Rockford players will be suited up for these games. It’s their chance to compete for the few spots the Blackhawks have available on the regular-season roster.
"We’re still looking for that niche in that spot in the penalty killing role. We’ll watch how that plays out,” Quenneville said. “But it could be the best players or more useful players. It’s a good problem to have. We’ll see how that sorts out.”
The true tests are about to begin. Yesterday, we talked about the emotions and pressures of competing for spots. Now let’s take a look at who’s already given themselves good chances to make the Blackhawks and who will need to show something over these next few games.
Quenneville was happy with Hayes’ work right off the bat this fall. The big forward said he spent the summer working on his overall fitness to improve his skating, and it’s evident. Hayes has moved well and played well in team scrimmages, and again in the preseason opener on Tuesday night.
With Bryan Bickell moving up to the top line right now, Hayes could certainly be the new Bickell on the checking line.
Ask him or Quenneville how Smith’s camp is going, both said, “OK.” Not the greatest endorsement. But Smith played well against Detroit on Tuesday, getting right in front of the net on his goal – “that’s Benny’s bread and butter,” Quenneville said. And Smith will need to do more of that if he wants to crack this lineup.
Could Smith be that penalty killer Quenneville is looking for? Smith, who’s killed penalties in Rockford, is open to it.
“All the guys have said it: whatever we’re asked to do, we’ll do it,” he said. “I’ve worked on it the last three years in Rockford, and I’m definitely willing to give it a shot and earn a role here.”
General manager Stan Bowman listed Pirri as one of the Rockford players who’s earned a chance to join the Blackhawks. And Pirri said he’s willing to play center on whatever line is available to make the team. Right now, however, Pirri’s out with an injury he sustained last weekend in Notre Dame. Quenneville said Pirri should get back on the ice the next few days, but how much of that will be game action? Will the injury down time cost Pirri? Will others pass him by?
Suddenly, there are a lot more questions than answers regarding Pirri’s potential of staying here. If he gets into games soon and plays well, he should make it.
He’s had some solid moments at camp, albeit not as noticeable as a guy like Hayes has been. Morin has good instincts and is alert to teammates around him, as his drop-pass assist on Patrick Sharp’s goal against Detroit reminded us.
In 2010-11, Morin’s preseason nearly earned him a spot out of camp, and eventually did earn him nine games with the Blackhawks. He’s looking for something more long term now, but he’ll have to do more to get it.
Stanton’s ability is there, and the coaches are happy with what he’s done in Rockford. He’s also having a nice camp. But what hurts Stanton has little to do with his game. It has to do with the numbers game. The Blackhawks are already loaded at defensemen: all seven from last season are back, and the team also signed Theo Peckham this offseason.
Quenneville has said Stanton will probably see games this season, but those games probably won’t come at the start of the season.