Friday’s 3 Stars: Smith states his case to stick with Ottawa’s top line

No. 1 star: Dalton Smith, Ottawa 67's (OHL)

It took 171 OHL games, but Smith finally registered his first career hat trick as the 67's pasted Belleville 7-2 to move six points clear of the Bulls on top of the East Division.

Smith, of course, isn't the most popular guy in Belleville, considering he received a 10-game suspension earlier in the season for an elbow to the head of Bulls goaltender Malcolm Subban, who's currently out with a groin injury.

The timing of Smith's breakout is probably no accident. The Columbus Blue Jackets prospect has recently joined Ottawa's first line alongside top scorers Tyler Toffoli (who had a goal and four assists Friday) and Sean Monahan (who had four assists).

Smith made a last-ditch case for sticking with the top unit, with new acquisition John McFarland waiting in the wings to join the 67's for a rematch in Belleville Saturday night. Coach Chris Byrne might think twice about breaking up his top unit's chemistry for a new player, even though Toffoli and McFarland dominated midget hockey as teammates.

Goaltender Michael Nishi also had a big night for Ottawa, stopping 38 of 40 shots on the eve of Petr Mrazek's return from stardom at the World Junior Championship.

No. 2 star: Matt Hewitt, Regina Pats (WHL)

Hewitt, who's quietly having a quality season in Regina, posted his second shutout in a month on Friday, blanking the Saskatoon Blades 3-0.

The 19-year-old from New Westminster, B.C., made 33 saves to improve to 22-11-2-1, and the Pats moved into a tie (for the moment) with Kootenay and Medicine Hat for third place in the Eastern Conference.

Regina is now unbeaten in its past six games, and the notion that Jordan Weal is going to be available at the trade deadline is looking more far-fetched every day. Of course, with how close the East is right now, a four-game losing streak could find the Pats plunging back to eighth (potential buyers and sellers seem to be changing by the hour).

Meanwhile, the Blades have lost seven of 10 and have sunk into a tie for sixth with Calgary, just a point ahead of eighth-place Brandon.

No. 3 star: Zach O'Brien, Acadie-Bathurst Titan (QMJHL)

With two goals and two assists in a 5-2 win over Cape Breton, O'Brien moved into a tie for the Q's scoring lead with Victoriaville's Yanni Gourde at 73 points. He's also the first player in the league to hit the 35-goal mark this season.

The Titan are also surging in the standings, having won nine of 12 to move into a tie with Chicoutimi for eighth place in the league and bolstering their hopes for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Honourable mention: Brad Ross, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

Ross scored all three goals in the Winterhawks' tougher-than-expected 3-1 win over the last-place Everett Silvertips. While Ty Rattie is getting most of the publicity in Portland, Ross has surged as of late and now ranks fourth in the WHL with 28 goals -- still nine behind his league-leading teammate.

The score could have been much worse, but Everett goaltender Kent Simpson set a franchise record with 55 saves on 57 shots (Ross's third goal was an empty-netter). On the other end, 16-year-old Brendan Burke got a rare start in net for Portland and came up with 30 saves.

More of Friday's best: Ryan Spooner had two goals and an assist and JP Anderson made 30 saves in Sarnia's 4-0 win over Erie ... Goaltenders Jordan Binnington of Owen Sound (48 saves on 51 shots) and Christopher Festirini of Niagara (40 saves on 43 shots) each had big nights, but Festarini's IceDogs prevailed 4-3 in a shootout ... Michael Fine and Josh Shalla each had a pair of goals and a pair of assists in Saginaw's 8-3 beatdown of Guelph. Brandon Saad added four helpers ... Peterborough's Andrew Yogan had two goals and two assists in a 6-4 victory over Kingston ... Allain (2G-1A) and Alex (1G-1A) Saulnier combined for five points and a +6 in Moncton's 5-1 triumph over Gatineau. Marek Hrivik had three assists ... Peter Sakaris had three assists and Jonathan Narbonne scored twice as Shawinigan rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat Chicoutimi 6-3 ... Matthieu Thériault scored the first and last goals of Val d'Or's 6-4 victory over Drummondville, adding an assist. Outshot 48-22, the Foreurs were bailed out by François Tremblay's 44 saves ... Taylor Vause (1G-2A) figured in all three goals as Swift Current held off Red Deer 3-2. Jon Groenhyde made 38 saves ... Cole Cheveldae stopped 32 shots for Kamloops to shut out the Prince George Cougars 2-0 ... Patrick Holland had two goals and two assists as Tri-City won its 12th consecutive game, a 7-3 decision over Seattle. Adam Hughesman, Brendan Shinnimin and Brian Williams each had three points ... Defenceman Myles Bell scored twice and added an assist as Kelowna beat Victoria 5-2 and extended the Royals' losing skid to eight.

Scott Sepich is a WHL contributor to Buzzing the Net. Follow him on Twitter @SSepichWHL