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Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Winging it onto Bruins' third line?

By By Joe McDonald
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- It's only a week into training camp for the Boston Bruins, but it's evident what the team's likely line combinations and defensive pairings will be once the puck drops for the 2013-14 season opener on Oct. 3.

The top two lines are pretty much set. Bruins centerman David Krejci will have Milan Lucic on his left side and Jarome Iginla on his right side. In fact, it didn't take long for that trio to impress. Boston's second line will consist of Brad Marchand on the left side, Patrice Bergeron in the middle and Loui Eriksson on the right wing. They've already built chemistry, too.

Bruins coach Claude Julien likes consistency, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see the energy line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton stay intact.

Carl Soderberg
Carl Soderberg has been working at center but could end up as a third-line winger.

That leaves Boston's third unit.

Entering camp, there were some questions as to how general manager Peter Chiarelli and Julien envisioned that line, especially with the depth and talent in the organization. Even though the finished product has yet to be determined, don't be surprised if that line has Chris Kelly in the middle between wingers Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith.

Kelly, one of the team's assistant captains, had a subpar 2012-13 season and dealt with a broken left tibia that forced him to miss 14 games. When the season ended, Kelly was playing well, and the team hopes he carries that over into this season.

Currently in camp, Soderberg has been working as a centerman, between wingers Craig Cunningham and Matt Fraser. But both Chiarelli and Julien have all but indicated Soderberg will end up on the wing.

After he arrived in Boston late last season, Soderberg played a total of only eight games with the Bruins, including two in the Stanley Cup finals against the Chicago Blackhawks. After the season ended in disappointment, the Bruins admitted they hadn't seen enough of Soderberg to give a true evaluation of his ability to contribute in Boston.

The 27-year-old forward arrived at camp in great shape and has quickly impressed Chiarelli and Julien. He's showing signs of being a prototypical power forward best suited for the wing.

"I like a lot about his game," Chiarelli said. "I hope we can slot him in there; whether it's center or wing is still to be determined.

"He's come into camp this year and he's in terrific condition. He's got a couple of quicker first few steps. He's barreled around the D a few times and taken the puck to the net, so he's shown me some stuff I've seen before in him and I would expect to see out of him."

By no means is Chiarelli considering Smith as the dark horse candidate for the spot on the right wing. The 22-year-old forward arrived in Boston via trade from Dallas, along with veteran forward Eriksson and fellow prospects Fraser and Joe Morrow, in exchange for forwards Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley on July 4.

"Getting traded, there were obviously mixed emotions," Smith said. "It pretty much came out of left field. I wasn't really expecting it at all going into this summer to be traded. I found out on Twitter, actually, so it was kind of funny. It's a big difference coming from Dallas to Boston. There are a lot higher expectations.

"Boston, compared to Dallas, their outlooks on the season is much different. Boston is a team that looks to win the Stanley Cup every year and not just make the playoffs. That's a great situation for me. I love to have that drive, that goal, so I'm really happy with the way things have turned out."

Smith has been impressive playing with Kelly and Jordan Caron during camp. In fact, Smith played well in his first preseason game with the Bruins on Tuesday night against the Washington Capitals.

"He made some nifty plays and I liked his battle," Chiarelli said. "He's a smart player. He makes good plays in small spaces. He's got a real good shot."

Smith does have 40 games of NHL experience in the previous two seasons. He had three goals and six assists for nine points during those games.

"It was good," Smith said of his time in Dallas. "I'm very grateful that Dallas gave me the opportunity to play that many games to get my feet wet and then some. I can't thank them enough. I think it's helped me for my game completely, and from a maturity level, being able to feel confident with the puck, and it's helped a lot."

Chiarelli and the Bruins had scouted Smith ever since his collegiate career at Miami (Ohio) University. Even last season, the Bruins were heavily scouting the Dallas Stars, according to Chiarelli. When the trade went down, the Bruins wanted Smith as one of the prospects in return. It's evident now why Chiarelli wanted him.

"He's not the biggest guy but he plays with an edge," Chiarelli said. "He's got a lot of the things we like. We'll have to look at him more closely, but he's caught my eye a little bit."

His grit enables him to be a good player along the wall, which proves crucial on the defensive end of the ice.

"For his size he's strong on the puck," Chiarelli said.

When evaluating players, Chiarelli and his staff look for a certain skill set that includes toughness. Smith understands he'll have to tweak his game a little now that he's in Boston, but the organization believes he can handle it.

"They're a pretty hard-working, hard-nosed team," Smith said. "It's a lot different from Dallas. As soon as you step foot in this organization it seems like they have a totally different approach to their style of play. They're pretty serious about it and that's one thing that I really need to focus on and make the transition."

Eriksson, who will likely be a mainstay on the Bruins' second line, witnessed Smith's development firsthand in Dallas. In fact, Eriksson assisted on Smith's first NHL goal.

"He's a good player," Eriksson said. "In Dallas, when he played you could see he's a pretty dangerous offensively skilled [player] with a good shot. He's pretty fast out there, too. He's still young and he's still trying to learn a little bit. I think it's good for him to come here, too, and it's good competition to earn a spot on this team."