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Stan Bowman puts faith in Blackhawks’ Ben Smith, Marcus Kruger

VANCOUVER CANADA - APRIL 15: Ben Smith #57 Chicago Blackhawks celebrates after scoring against Vancouver Canucks during second period Game

VANCOUVER, CANADA - APRIL 15: Ben Smith #57 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates after scoring against the Vancouver Canucks during the second period in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 15, 2011 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, BC, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images) R:\Merlin\Getty_Photos\GYI0064350058.jpg

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Updated: July 18, 2011 2:09AM



If Ben Smith and Marcus Kruger needed an invitation, this is it.

Despite all the moves general manager Stan Bowman made this offseason to address the Blackhawks’ toughness, defense and depth, he declined to add a veteran center.

Coupled with Bowman saying Friday at the Blackhawks Convention that he’s prepared to go forward with the roster he has, the door has been flung wide open for Smith, 23, and Kruger, 21, to carve out a regular spot in the faceoff circle.

“I’ll play wherever they want to put me,” Smith said at the convention. “I’m just focused now on trying to make the team. That’s my biggest goal. I’ve played center a little bit in Rockford, a lot in college. I’m willing to do whatever role is asked of me and do it as best as I can.”

Smith practically forced himself onto the roster this season with three goals in the Hawks’ first-round playoff series against the Vancouver ­Canucks, including the overtime winner in Game 6.

Kruger had an assist and a plus-2 rating in five games against the Canucks. He then went on to win a silver medal with Sweden at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship this summer, scoring two goals in nine games in the tournament.

“The experience gave me a lot of motivation to go back home and work hard,” Kruger said. “If I can help the team out, I’ll do it at any position they want me.”

But given that Smith and Kruger have played a combined 15 regular-season games, Hawks fans should expect Patrick Sharp, an unrestricted free agent after the 2011-12 season, to figure prominently at center, as well.

“The last six years, I don’t think I’ve played one position more than another, left wing, right wing, center, and even defense on the power play,” said Sharp, who said he’s isn’t worried about a new contract. “I’m sure if I start at center, I’ll play some games at wing. If I start at wing, I’ll play some games at center.”

Contributing: Adam L. Jahns



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