Ben Smith and Antti Raanta each had his “breakout” moments this season.
Smith went from a sometimes-used forward to a steady presence in the Blackhawks’ lineup, be it as a fourth line wing or a second-line center. Raanta, who hadn’t logged much time playing on North American ice, had to adjust fast and played well when Corey Crawford was injured early in the season.
Both Smith and Raanta would love to be back with the Blackhawks next season. And it sounds like general manager Stan Bowman wants the same thing.
Smith and Raanta are both restricted free agents entering the 2014-15 season. But Bowman praised both at the team’s media session on Tuesday and said he’d like to have them return.
“Ben had a great season. He started hoping to make the team and here we are, nine months later, he’s one of the regular players in overtime of Game 7 of the conference final. Over the next few weeks we’ll sit down with his agent and talk about making it all work out,” Bowman said. “We were forced to bring (Raanta) in in December when Corey got hurt. Credit to Antti: he was able to step up. We just kept winning. We’re going to need him next year to give us those solid starts as well. I’m excited for that.”
Smith said there’s no doubt he’d love to be back.
“Obviously (there’s) some unfinished business,” Smith said of the Blackhawks’ earlier exit this postseason. “This is the place where you want to be. So for me, it’s pretty soon after everything that happened, and there hasn’t been much thought put into it, but this is where you want to be.”
Smith was a valuable player for coach Joel Quenneville this season. When Michal Handzus started struggling at second-line center, Smith moved into the role. He was also strong as part of the team’s steady fourth-line group with Brandon Bollig and Marcus Kruger.
“Benny seemed to grow as his responsibility and his ice time (grew),” Quenneville said. “I think his versatility was something that… you’re comfortable with him in a lot of different situations. It was nice involvement from start to finish with Benny, and it was a good year for him at the end of the day.”
Raanta didn’t have the best finish to the regular season but he had a great start. The affable goaltender had to adjust to North American ice quickly, and would love to keep learning with the Blackhawks.
“Who wouldn’t want to be back here? This team is one of the best, so of course, of course, you want to be here. But we’ll see what happens in the summertime,” he said. “It’s a good time to get you in a better shape and start working hard and prepare for next year.”
As for those contract talks, Raanta said he’ll let the right folks deal with them.
“We’ll see what my agent can do,” he said with a smile. “That’s (his) job.”