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Several Blackhawks in running to fill Michael Frolik’s spot on PK

Blackhawks winger Ben Smith was demoted Rockford IceHogs Monday. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images

Blackhawks winger Ben Smith was demoted to the Rockford IceHogs on Monday. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images

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Updated: September 15, 2013 9:22PM



SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Sure, Ben Smith wants to be a top-line guy. Of course, Jeremy Morin would love to skate alongside Jonathan Toews. Naturally, Brandon Pirri thinks of himself as a scorer.

But Smith has been in Rockford for a little more than three seasons and is older than Patrick Kane. Morin has been in Rockford three years, too. So has Pirri. They were born six days apart — a year and a half before Brandon Saad. Jimmy Hayes and Drew LeBlanc are each 24, having paid their dues in the minors and in college, respectively.

So they’re not picky.

‘‘I would embrace any role that I would get on the big squad,’’ Smith said.

‘‘I would do whatever they asked me to do,’’ LeBlanc said.

‘‘Whatever they want from me, I’m ready,’’ Morin said.

That’s what coach Joel Quenneville likes to hear because one of the very few holes he has to fill — and one of the most important — isn’t exactly the most glamorous one. The Hawks are looking for the next Michael Frolik, a guy who can play limited minutes on the fourth line and become a penalty-killing specialist. That means forgoing personal glory a bit. Frolik, a former first-round pick and two-time 20-goal scorer, always liked to call himself an ‘‘offensive-minded player,’’ but he reinvented himself last season as a tenacious penalty-killer, sacrificing his stats and his body by focusing on defense and blocking shots.

Nine-time Stanley Cup-winning coach Scotty Bowman, a senior adviser for the Hawks, said the job Frolik and Marcus Kruger did on the kill — the Hawks were third in the league with a sparkling 87.2 percent success rate — was one of the biggest reasons they won the Cup. Not only did it help offset a dismal power play, but it eased the burden on Toews and Marian Hossa, saving them a few minutes of ice time a game and keeping them fresher late in games.

Quenneville said he hoped the next Frolik would come from the handful of Rockford guys expected to make the team. Smith, a scrappy sort and a veteran penalty-killer in the minors, might have the inside track.

‘‘I’ve been trying to show I can block shots over the last couple of days,’’ Smith said. ‘‘Any role, obviously, I’d take on this team. But that’s something I’d for sure take pride in if called upon.’’

Morin got his first taste of killing penalties last season in Rockford and might be another front-runner. Quenneville even mentioned Saad, who saw some time on the kill late last season, though it might defeat the purpose of keeping top guys fresh if he earns the second-line center spot. Hayes, a physical presence at 6-6, is more likely to get Bryan Bickell’s old spot on the third line, but he said he’d be more than willing to take on the penalty-killing role if it was offered.

Regardless of who gets it, he’ll have to work hard to keep it. Because any role is a treasured role, and there will be a handful of other guys waiting in the wings, more than happy to find a permanent home — any home — in the lineup.

‘‘It’s a good opportunity for all of us,’’ said Morin, who scored twice in the opening scrimmage in the Hawks’ last day Sunday at Notre Dame. ‘‘A lot of us have put our time in down in Rockford, and there are some spots open, including that one. Obviously, we’re friends and roommates, but it’s a business, and we’re all trying to earn a spot.’’

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkLazerus



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