For Hawks’ Smith, the time is now

For Ben Smith, the time is now.

After three years of trying to crack the Blackhawks’ lineup without success since his memorable first-round playoff series against Vancouver in 2011 when he scored 3 goals in seven games — including the Game 6 winner in overtime — Smith is through messing around.

“I’m 25 years old now, and for me that gives me a little more motivation that it’s time to make this happen,” Smith said. “I’m going to work every day toward that goal.”

After a so-so start to his camp, Smith scored 1 of the Hawks’ goals in Tuesday’s 2-0 exhibition win over Detroit. Smith planted himself in front of goalie Jonas Gústavsson and tipped in a shot by Jimmy Hayes, one of his competitors for a roster spot.

“This is going to come down to who’s the most consistent, who’s playing hardest every night, and who’s working hardest every day,” Smith said. “This was a step up from how it’s been, but it’s still nowhere near where it needs to be. It’s a process, but now I’ve got to just try to build off that on Thursday (against Pittsburgh at the United Center).”

Smith, Hayes, Jeremy Morin and Brandon Pirri are competing for the few jobs available at forward. While they’re all friends, Smith says business is business.

“We’re all buddies. We’ve all been playing together the last two or three years at Rockford,” Smith said. “You have to understand that it’s a competition and you can’t get mad at a guy for trying his best and working his hardest because he’s just trying to win a job.

“You really just have to worry about yourself. It’s a business and we know those decisions aren’t being made by us so that makes it a little less awkward. All we can do is play the best we can.”

It might not come down to who played the best. The jobs might go to players who fit a certain need, such as a penalty killer to replace the departed Michael Frolik.

“Could it be the best players or most useful players? That’s a good question,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ll see how that sorts out.

“We’re still looking for a guy to play with (Marcus) Kruger in that penalty-killing role so that’s something we’ll visit as we go along.”

Quenneville used rookie Joakim Nordstrom with Kruger against the Red Wings.

“They’ve got a little relationship and rapport there, those two guys being from Sweden,” Quenneville said. “Krugs is easy to play with.”

Smith has killed penalties at Rockford and is ready to do it up here.

“I’m willing to work at it,” Smith said. “All the guys have said it — whatever we’re asked to do. We want to be here on the squad and part of this winning tradition that they’ve grown here for the last four, five, six years.”

As for his goal on Tuesday, it came from the so-called dirty area in front of the net.

“It was a nice play by Jimmy Hayes there,” Smith said. “He had the puck and had nice patience and I just tried to get in front of the net and plant my butt, get body position and I was able to deflect it.”

Quenneville said it’s easy to root for someone who plays as hard as Smith.

“That’s Benny’s bread and butter,” Quenneville said. “He’s got a quick stick at the net and seems to find himself in that position a lot.

“His camp’s been OK. We think Benny is one of those players you find a way to utilize because he’s effective in a lot of different ways and in different areas. He’s a competitive kid, and you always root for him.”

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