Smith Ready to Join the Club

BC center has come from mid-season obscurity to strong draft potential

June 17, 2007

By Nate Crossman

Special to CSTV.com

 

NHL draftees abound inside Boston College's locker room. The Eagles had 12 of them on last year's 27-man roster, including a pair of first-rounders in goaltender Cory Schneider and defenseman Brian Boyle and two second-rounders in defenseman Carl Sneep and forward Dan Bertram.

 

Perhaps that is why center Ben Smith is taking a decidedly subdued approach to this year's NHL Entry Draft, which begins June 22nd at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Although being drafted would be a nice addition to his media guide blurb, it certainly wouldn't put him in select company. Nor would not being drafted be a referendum on his professional prospects.


 

 

 

"I'll definitely watch," Smith said. "But whatever happens, happens. Last year, I got passed over, so I'm not expecting too much. If I don't get drafted I'll be a free agent, which is fine. But I'm not going to get too caught up in it."

 

Or perhaps the rising sophomore's attitude is a reflection of the fact that he's only beginning to come to grips with the idea of being drafted.

 

When the Central Scouting Service's mid-term ranking of North American skaters came out in January, Smith was nowhere to be found on the 210-player list. Nor did he deserve to be, centering the fourth line of a BC team that was struggling to stay above .500, and appeared as though it would have a hard time winning Hockey East, let alone a national title. The closest the Avon, Conn. native thought he'd be to the draft was watching it on TV to see how high fellow Nutmeg Staters Tommy Cross and Max Pacioretty, who are projected to be first-round picks, would go.

 

Three months later, however, Smith was the first-line center and one of the major reasons why the Eagles advanced all the way to the national championship game, where they lost to Michigan State. As a result, he checked in at 133 on the CSB's final ranking, the fourth-highest ranked collegian behind Colorado College's Bill Sweatt (27), former Dartmouth forward T.J. Galiardi (31) and Minnesota's James O'Brien (38).

 

"I guess that's what you do as a freshman; you do your role, wait for that opportunity and take advantage of it," said Smith, who will be 19-years-old in July. "It's kind of like a dream come true, to be playing that big of a role on a team with so many top end players.

 

"Obviously that last month had a huge effect on me moving up on that list."

 

Smith's unexpected journey up the CSS's final rankings began March 5th, three days prior to the Eagles' Hockey East playoff series against Northeastern.

 

Smith had heard rumors from forwards Brock Bradford and Nate Gerbe by way of head coach Jerry York that Boyle might move to defense, leaving Smith as the first-line center. Even though they seemed credible, they were hard to believe for a player who'd been averaging only a few fourth-line shifts per game. Rumors, however, became reality that afternoon when Smith arrived at practice and saw his name listed alongside Bradford and Gerbe's on the practice sheet. Even then, a skeptical Smith thought it was only temporary.

 

"I figured we'd try it out for the weekend," Smith said.

 

Perhaps BC would have had Smith not played so well his first game, scoring a goal and adding an assist. Although he was shutout in the series-clinching win over the Huskies, his two-game performance bought him time to fully adapt to the demands of playing on the first line.

 

Any thoughts of moving Boyle back to forward were abandoned after the Eagles' semifinal win over Boston University, in which Smith scored a goal and added a pair of assists.

 

"I didn't have a great first period, but in the second everything worked for me," Smith said. "From then on I felt like I was playing well. It was a good feeling, because I was actually producing and helping the team."

 

After helping BC win the Hockey East championship over New Hampshire, Smith continued his standout play in the NCAA tournament. He scored a goal and added an assist in his team's Northeast Regional first-round win over St. Lawrence, then picked up another assist in the championship victory over Miami.

 

By the time the Eagles faced North Dakota in a national semifinal, Smith was being mentioned by pundits as a key to BC's playoff run. He lived up to his press against the Fighting Sioux, breaking a 2-2 tie with a third-period goal and assisting on Bertram's first-period tally to tie the game 1-1.

 

"I think that was my best game of the year," Smith said. "Everything seemed to go well for us as a team, and to just be playing in that venue with so many people watching, it was great."

 

Smith reaped many rewards from his late-season burst. He was named the team's outstanding freshman and scored an invite to the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp, August 3-11 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

 

Although it's not No. 1 on his list of priorities, attending the camp as an NHL draftee would be a nice bonus.