As I said on NBC when writing Smith's report card there, in September I didn't have any idea that I'd be doing a post-mortem on Ben Smith. In fact, I had no idea who he was. Yeah, I knew about the MVP in the Frozen Four and captain of a NCAA champ. But Adam Burish had done the latter, too. There wasn't much buzz about him in training camp, and he sort of just receded to Rockford, where I expected him to stay save for an injury crush. But there was that two-game call up at the end of October, and he didn't look out of place. And a few of us around here wanted to see just a couple games more. After all, what could it hurt? And it had to be better than Hendry and Scott on the 4th line, right? But no, Stan wanted to prove his cap genius or something, and Smith was sent down, where I assumed he wouldn't be heard from again.
And then April happened...
#57 / Right Wing / Chicago Blackhawks
Jul 11, 1988
|2010 - Ben Smith||6||1||0||1||1||0||0||0||0||6|
Yep, they didn't even have a pro picture of him.
Contract Status: One more year at $812K (cap hit)
Positives: Well, you wouldn't think that you could glean a lot of positives from a 13 total game stint (reg. season and playoffs), but then again you wouldn't think that cutting yourself can feel good at times (Sam is now actively trying to scare all of you). But there were so many. Smith from the word go showed a high hockey IQ, seemingly always exactly where he needed to be. He played with a high energy, and tried to be as physical as he could be with that smallish frame. He also was one of the few Hawks who didn't treat being in front of the opponent's net like being quarantined, and that's where all his goals came from. In just this short span, Smith earned himself a role on the Top 6 during the playoffs, and kind of looks like the player Tomas Kopecky wants to be and the Hawks wanted him to be, i.e. the guy who can be physical and pest-y and play on every line. He also showed to be a pretty decent penalty killer, which is strange for the amount of games he had.
Negatives: Like a lot of Hawks this season, a majority of the negatives for this player don't have to do with the player himself as much as the management handling him. Though Smith was only in his first year as a pro, one has to wonder where he was before April. There was really no reason to not give him more games after that brief stint in October, because he really looked like he belonged then and the Hawks didn't have better options at the time. Time in Rockford wasn't a bad idea, but his 20 goals there should have showed that he was learning quickly and that he could be relied upon in March when Sharp and Bolland were having things fall off of them and leaving the forward group in a state of disrepair. It leaves one to wonder how well Stan scouts his own system, which is job one of any general manager.
As for the player himself, without a larger sample size to see the warts in his game, the one thing I'll say is that Smith's size is a slight concern for the game he wants to play. But others do it, so it's not that big of a deal.
Defining Moment: Highlight of the season? Highlight of the season. I know I started to believe right after this. Sigh...
Outlook: This is where we have to be careful. We all love the energy Smith brought to the team at the end of the season and playoffs, and it's easy to project that into something more than it actually could be. Do I think Smith should be on the team next year? Absolutely, unless he completely shits it in camp, which I don't think he will. But do I think he should be counted on for anything more than a 4th line role? No, I don't. He's still got loads to learn, and if he proves he can take on more of a role, well, that won't hurt anyone. But for now, let's just have Smith use his energy, physicality, and penalty killing abilities where those things flourish, on the 4th line, and go from there.
Final Grade: I know there's been a lot of discussion on how we come up with these, and for me they're always based on a curve of what is expected from that player, what he has accomplished before, and where he lined up this season. You can't do that with Smith, because we had no expectations, he hadn't accomplished much before, and we honestly don't know what he could be. Remember when we all liked Jake Dowell a lot. So it's a bit of a cop-out, but Smith really hasn't earned anything but a very encouraging Incomplete. If it has to be a letter for you, I'd go with a B+/A-, simply for the surprise that he was.