The Evolution of Ben Smith
In the span of a few months, Ben Smith has gone from typical Chicago folk hero to legitimate piece of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Just a few months ago, prior to the beginning of the 2013-14 season, Ben Smith was your typical Chicago folk hero. Forged in the fire of the 2010-11 postseason, Smith's overtime goal in Game 6 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals forced a Game 7 against the Vancouver Canucks. From that point on, a Sam Fuld aura surrounded Smith, as a fan favorite who was never quite able to crack the regular rotation with his club.
It can be argued that Smith would have had a much better shot at getting into the mix regularly the following season, but his 2011-12 campaign was derailed by injury. With the Rockford Icehogs in 2012-13, Ben Smith turned in a career year at the professional level in posting 47 points in 54 games, including 27 goals. He managed to get into just one regular season game with the Hawks during the lockout-shortened '13 campaign.
For whatever reason, and that reason most likely being Joel Quenneville logic, it took Smith some time to crack the regular rotation with the Blackhawks this season. He's appeared in 35 of 42 games on the year, gaining consistent appearances and playing time as the year has worn on. Better yet, Smith has gone from a fringe guy with the organization to someone they can rely on regularly.
That's not to say that Ben Smith is a fringe NHL talent. He's not an All Star, but he's someone you can rely in the bottom six, and perhaps throw up in the top six from time to time. There was a time, though, when his status with the organization, as far as whether or not he'd be able to grab consistent appearances, was in doubt. Not so much the case anymore.
As the season has worn on, Smith has found himself getting steady ice time and playing in some big moments. He's averaging a touch under 12 minutes per game, including just over a minute per game on the penalty kill. His time on the PK represents the fifth most ice time among forwards while shorthanded.
Smith isn't the type that's going to go out and drop big points or take over a game. He only has a dozen points on the year, including finding the back of the net just four times. But he's that "gritty" player (for extreme lack of a better word) that everyone loves. He'll play down around in the corners and in the slot area, while providing steady defense from the forward position. He's an asset to the Blackhawks and much more than just a typical Chicago folk hero.