Who Will Be the Bruins 3rd Line's Odd Man out When Carl Soderberg Returns?

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Who Will Be the Bruins 3rd Line's Odd Man out When Carl Soderberg Returns?
Steve Babineau/Getty Images

Amidst what is likely a temporary top-six promotion, Boston Bruins winger Reilly Smith tallied his third assist in four games amidst Monday afternoon’s 3-2 falter to the visiting Detroit Red Wings.

Meanwhile, associate third-line wing Jordan Caron, now in his fourth year in the organization, drew his second opposing penalty in as many meetings with Detroit this young season.

At the five-game mark of 2013-14, both of Chris Kelly’s colleagues continue to make an approaching decision borderline head-spinning.

That is, who stays and who sits once preseason attention magnet Carl Soderberg is back in game-ready health?

It remains unclear as to when Soderberg, whom Saturday’s Boston Globe quoted as saying that he is “not 100 percent yet,” will return. After finally shuffling over from Sweden last April, the seventh-year member of the organization has endured a delay to his first start-to-finish NHL campaign with an ankle ailment and just resumed skating late last week.

Is it possible that Soderberg could ultimately return without returning, i.e. serving as the spare 13th forward even when he is healthy?

Not likely for the long run, but maybe for a brief stretch, as long as the Caron-Kelly-Smith troika has a shelf life or those two wingers are otherwise effective in any given arrangement.

As head coach Claude Julien told Bruins Daily on boston.com in a story published a week ago, “Their work ethic has been able to generate chemistry,” adding that “When the time comes, I’ll deal with Carl being back in. They play well, he may come in for them.”

Julien made those remarks between the second and third games of his team’s schedule. Since then, something other than the Soderberg factor has arisen to shelve the Caron-Smith combination rather than continue to measure its shelf life.

During Saturday’s matinee in Columbus, Smith supplanted a slumping Brad Marchand as a second-line winger with Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson. That newfangled group continued to work with one another on Monday with Smith garnering credit for a helper on Eriksson’s goal, just as he had on Saturday’s clincher.

It is, however, safe to assume that the Marchand rearrangement will not last long. For one thing, the feisty winger has worked with Bergeron since the latter half of his rookie year in 2010-11. For another, more notoriously inconsistent pairs (David Krejci and Milan Lucic, anybody?) have never stayed apart for long.

As long as Caron and Smith are working separate shifts for the moment, those shifts are now even more of an audition to work with Kelly and Soderberg when that version of the line chart is ready.

The only way they both play every night for long after Soderberg returns is if someone along the lines of Marchand sags to the point where he incurs a slew of healthy scratches.

So, when Soderberg is back in business, which 22-year-old winger makes more sense to join him in flanking Kelly in the majority of the coming games? The one who is off to a hot start in the playmaking column or the one who is making headlines primarily through the so-called “little things?”

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

As encouraging as three assists in his first five games as a Bruin may be, there is no guarantee Smith is going to last through the balance of 2013-14. The “flaws” section of his scouting report from The Hockey News notes that he “Doesn’t have ideal size for the National Hockey League game, so he needs to get much stronger physically to survive at the highest level.”

Depending on how much and how frequently he suits up with Boston over the 82-game schedule, that drawback could become more visible and take a toll on Smith’s output.

The Miami University alumnus is in his second professional season. He split his first between AHL Texas and the Dallas Stars, so more minor league action is hardly out of the question for him.

Conversely, a demotion to Providence is the least ideal occurrence for Caron, a Canadian major-junior graduate who has split the 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons between the Spoked-Ps and Spoked-Bs.

For a player of his first-round draft status and up and down track record, “demotion” would be the lone operative word in that scenario, whereas “reassignment” might fit Smith a little more.

Caron has not tangibly produced since scoring in a 4-1 win over Detroit on Oct. 5, which some may argue should have been his second goal after a disputed washout two nights prior. That, however, has not been for lack of qualitative, irreproachable opportunities, such as his authoritative up-front wrister in the second minute of the third period against Colorado.

Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

In addition, he has that aforementioned pair of drawn penalties, the second of which came at 15:54 of Monday’s opening frame. He drew that call five seconds after tipping a wide shot attempt from within a mere 12 feet of the cage

Caron has also landed nine hits as opposed to Smith’s three, which is an inherently important contrast for a checking-liner.

More of that physicality ought to create sufficient space for more of those scoring chances, more of which he should bury in due time. Applying that gritty, determined approach ought to help the likes of Soderberg evoke the “two-way upside” and “setup skills” that The Hockey News speaks of, and keep paving Kelly’s road to redemption.

Smith’s comparative shortage of size and seasoning put him behind to begin with. Caron’s tone of determination through the first half of October is keeping him ahead in the ongoing derby.

Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com

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