Ben Smith skated on the third line for the second straight day at Blackhawks practice on Friday. But as a guy who’s been fighting for a regular spot in the lineup for more than three seasons, the 25-year-old knows better than to assume anything.
“One thing I’ve learned being around here the last few years is you never really know,” Smith said. “But I’m prepared, I’m ready if that’s the case. I’m excited if the opportunity comes.”
Looks like he will get that opportunity. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said that Smith will be in the lineup Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. That means Jimmy Hayes, one of the breakout stars of training camp, likely will be a healthy scratch.
“We want to get everybody in here early,” Quenneville said. “You’ve got 23 guys, and over the course of the season, you’ll wish you had 23 guys. Everybody usually gets in the lineup and plays, it’s just a matter of time before we get everybody in and they’re all part of it. When you’re not playing, you’ve got to keep yourself sharp and into it. But we’ve got ways of making sure that, with extra skates, [everybody is] game ready, and we know that they’re going to be useful very soon.”
Smith and Hayes sit next to each in the Hawks’ dressing room, but each player shrugged off the awkwardness.
“It’s part of the sport, part of the job,” Smith said. You’re always competing against a lot of guys, it’s not just going to be training camp. It’s going to continue well on through the year. We just have to play our best every day and hope that the opportunities keep coming.”
Said Hayes: “Nothing’s guaranteed here. We’re all fighting for the same thing.”
In other news, Michal Handzus returned to practice on Friday. He’ll be in the lineup Saturday.