Opportunity: It doesn’t come around that often. When it does, you have to pounce on it, capitalize on it and build off of it.
Ben Smith has had his opportunities this season. His first was finding his niche on the Chicago Blackhawks’ fourth line, which has been very consistent and, until Friday, the least altered of the team’s lines. But Smith’s on-ice opportunities expanded last week, from garnering power-play time to centering the second line, and he’s taken advantage of every chance he’s gotten.
Smith had a goal and an assist, the goal coming as part of the second line and the helper on the power play, in the Blackhawks’ 4-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday night. Smith played a little second-line center at the end of the Blackhawks’ tough 3-2 loss to Nashville on Friday. But Sunday was a much better outing, for the team and for Smith, who also won seven of 10 faceoffs.
Coach Joel Quenneville said Smith’s earned the opportunities with his play.
“He’s gotten better each and every day this season,” he said of Smith. “He’s gotten more responsibility as he’s gone along here, and we tried him at center last game. It was a short addition there, and he looked comfortable. It seemed to help. It worked again (Sunday), so we gave him more responsibility and we liked what we saw.”
Smith has been a fourth-line staple this season, as he Brandon Bollig and Marcus Kruger have been a consistent trio. Even there, Smith got opportunities with his linemates. Quenneville trusted the three on both ends of the ice and rewarded them with more minutes and tough assignments, such as going against opponents’ top lines. Smith’s promotion wasn’t about the fourth line needing alteration; it was about giving Smith an earned chance.
Smith, who centered Bryan Bickell and Patrick Kane on Sunday, appreciates it.
“Any time you get a chance to play with a guy like Patrick Kane, you jump at the opportunity. And with Bickell, who’s turned up his game the last few weeks,” said Smith, who hasn’t played center much in recent years. “It’s been fun being out there with Bryan throwing his weight around and Kaner doing his thing.”
As with any opportunity, you never know how long it will last. Sure, most of the time it’s based on level of play, and Smith will serve himself well by doing well. But sometimes teams make changes due to injuries, lack of production — oh, you’ve seen this team the past few years, you know all this. Still, Smith’s latest chance has been a big one, and he’ll take advantage of it as long as he can.
“On this team it’s tough to get those opportunities; there are so many good players,” Smith said. “You never know with guys out with injuries and coming back, but all you can control is how you handle them. I’m just trying to do my best with them.”