Want a Stanley Cup? Impress the Hawks first

Being the new guy is never easy.

Especially when your roster is packed with NHL All-Stars, Olympic medalists and Stanley Cup champions.

That's what Blackhawks newbies Ben Smith, Michael Kostka and Brandon Pirri are going through now. However, so far they've had no trouble fitting in.

Kostka—known as "Thor" by fans, for reasons obvious to anyone who's seen a picture of him—scored his first NHL goal Saturday against Toronto, his former team. The Ajax, Ontario, native played in 35 games for the Maple Leafs last season before signing with the Hawks as a free agent July 19.

"To be honest, I just kind of built off of what I finished last season, adjusting to the NHL level I got to last year," Kostka said of the adjustments he's made. "Pretty quickly [I] was thrown into the deep end, so that helped me kind of make the next step. And I just really tried to pick up on all the things I learned from my teammates and from playing those games and just move forward from there."

Smith has bounced between the Hawks' minor-league team in Rockford and Chicago the past few seasons. To this point, he's best known to Hawks fans for scoring an overtime goal in Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinals against Vancouver in 2011.

He said he spent the offseason getting as fit as possible.

"Really it was just getting back into shape and trying to skate a little bit more," said Smith, a native of Winston-Salem, N.C. "It was tough with the late season there, with our season going so late. But really I just trained here with Paul Goodman, our strength coach, and prepared myself mentally for what I was hoping was my first season here in Chicago."

The forward also hopes to carve out a specific role on the team.

"That's the goal, to find some kind of niche and try to be an everyday player," he said. "Every opportunity I get out there is a chance to prove that."

Smith's hoping his mindset gives him an edge, too.

"It's really just taking advantage of an opportunity," he said. "I look at every game as an opportunity to prove I belong here. It's really just sticking to what I do best, and that's getting to the front of the net and trying to be solid in all areas."

Brandon Pirri, a Toronto native, also has spent most of the past few years with Rockford. He already has three points in just three games with the Hawks this season.

"The puck is just finding my stick right now," he said after scoring a goal Saturday. "I'm just trying to do the little things right."

Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.

Scott King is a RedEye special contributor.

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Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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