VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- If the Blackhawks hadn't made the playoffs on the last day of the season, the personnel decisions general manager Stan Bowman and his staff must make this summer likely would be more difficult.
The playoffs have brought out the best in a few of the younger players who before now might have gone into the off-season with some uncertainty about their future.
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But wingers Michael Frolik and Ben Smith have seen their value rise considerably to the point where they look to figure into the top nine at forward heading into 2011-12.
Winger Bryan Bickell also elevated his game before getting knocked out of the playoffs by wrist surgery while center Ryan Johnson may have played his way into a roster spot for next season on the fourth line and Chris Campoli a top-six spot on defense.
As for rookie goalie Corey Crawford, it goes without saying he has earned the No. 1 job for years to come.
Crawford is a restricted free agent, and one of Bowman's first priorities of the off-season will be getting him signed. Don't expect any scenarios such as with Antti Niemi last summer when it comes to Crawford getting a new deal.
Frolik is a restricted free agent as well who has shown a side that wasn't there during the regular season after arriving from Florida in a trade for Jack Skile.
Frolik has played with an edge while showing the kind of high-end skill the Hawks thought they were getting from the Panthers.
"I think he has taken his game in the playoffs to a whole different level," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It's nice to see the response to playing in big games from him."
"I think Fro is really coming into himself now as a Blackhawk," teammate Dave Bolland said. "It's good for him to get his first playoff year and he has turned into a great Blackhawk."
In the case of Smith, he had a solid first pro year in the American Hockey League at Rockford coming out of Boston College and was recalled in the last week of the season after an injury to Troy Brouwer.
Smith quickly earned a regular spot on the second line and took 3 playoff goals into Tuesday's deciding Game 7, showing an ability to battle his way into the tough scoring areas around the net. He also has the kind of character and winning pedigree that has fit right in with his teammates.
"You just try to take it day by day, really, take some deep breaths and live in the moment," Smith said. "The guys have been really helpful with me going through the pressure."
Smith wasn't worried about next season approaching Game 7
"You hope (you're being noticed), but you have to live in the moment and what's important is right now and the success of this team," Smith said before Game 7. "I'm really thankful for all the opportunity I've had. It's something that I never really expected."
The Hawks have six key restricted free agents to deal with this summer in Crawford, Frolik, Brouwer, Campoli, Viktor Stalberg and Jake Dowell.
Their unrestricted free agents are Johnson, Tomas Kopecky, Fernando Pisani, Jordan Hendry and Marty Turco.