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FEATURE: Blackhawks add versatile leader in Zack Smith

SVP/GM Stan Bowman continues trend of adding multi-position forwards with Senators alternate captain since 2017-18

by Chris Kuc / Blackhawks.com

Senior Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman has spent the summer methodically revamping a Blackhawks roster that came up short in too many areas last season.

Bowman struck again Tuesday by acquiring Zack Smith from the Senators in exchange for Artem Anisimov, a deal that should help improve the Blackhawks penalty kill, faceoff percentage, versatility among the forward positions and most definitely cleared some space under the NHL's salary cap.

"I think we've filled in the areas of concern from last year," Bowman said moments after the trade was announced. "There have been a number of moves over the last four or five weeks - some signings (and) some trades. When you add it all up, I think our team looks better now than it did. But training camp will show where that shakes out. I like where our team looks right now, though."

Video: Stan Bowman on acquiring Zack Smith

Smith joins a cadre of veteran newcomers to the Blackhawks, including Andrew Shaw, Calvin de Haan, Olli Maatta, Ryan Carpenter and Robin Lehner, all of whom Bowman has traded for or signed during his busy offseason.

In Smith, the Blackhawks received a player who had been an alternate captain of the Senators since the 2017-18 season and who had nine goals and a career-high 19 assists last year. The 31-year-old can play wing or center, a versatility which was been a point of emphasis in new additions to the Blackhawks this offseason. Smith, who had 25 goals during the '15-16 season for the Senators, also plays with an edge.

"He's a competitive guy; he's hard to play against," Bowman said. "He's got enough experience to play against good players and to be a responsible player. Also, he's got a bit of that edge that sometimes those star guys don't like to play against. He can be used in a couple of different roles. So versatility was a key."

Smith, who said "the writing has kind of been on the wall, I guess, since the start of last season" that he would be traded, said he is comfortable wherever the Blackhawks put him.

"I feel more comfortable at center, but I think I've had more success playing the wing," said Smith, who has a career faceoff percentage of 50.7. "What has kind of benefitted me this far is being able to play both positions. I guess the most ideal situation is to play wing and still take draws. I still enjoy taking draws - I feel that's one of my strong suits.

"I'm just excited beyond words to be playing for Chicago, so if they want to put me in goal or on 'D,' I'd be happy with that too," Smith added. "(But) center or wing is fine with me."

Anisimov's departure potentially opens up a spot up the middle and the Blackhawks have plenty of candidates looking to step in, including David Kampf, and top draft pick Kirby Dach.

"We have quite a few potential options there to play in the middle," Bowman said. "Zack Smith and Shaw, Carpenter has played some center, Kampf (and) Kirby as well. It's hard to map out some lines and who is going to be in what spot but I think we have different looks that we can throw at the other team. Part of training camp is going to be to find out where does everybody fit and which combinations work best."

Smith's contract carries an AAV of $3.25 million and he's signed through the 2020-21 season. Anisimov's contract carried an AAV of $4.55 million so essentially, the Blackhawks cleared $1.3 million under the cap. That money will come in handy if Bowman plans to re-sign restricted free agent Brendan Perlini.

"That was a part of the deal as well - a benefit," Bowman said of the cap room. "I think we do save a little bit on the cap so we still have a little bit of work to do there. We're looking better now than we were (Monday)."

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