Of all the candidates to skate on the Bruins’ third line, the one with the most advance press is clearly the skilled Swedish forward who already got a brief — if up-and-down — tryout at the end of the 2012-13 season.
He has the talent, the vision, the hands. He was, in fact, hailed as a solution to what ailed the Bruins in the latter half of the last season when fans began pining for the mystery man from Sweden. He didn’t quite fulfill that, enduring a layoff after the end of his season in the Swedish Elite League and never quite finding his stride.
This time around, Carl Soderberg has the time to learn the system, starting with training camp, though that spot on the third line will have to be won.
“I don’t focus on the other guys,” Soderberg said. “I focus on my own game. I know if I play my own game and have a good camp, hopefully I can show the coaches and my teammates I deserve it.”
The 27-year-old from Malmo, Sweden, came to the Bruins via trade six years ago but didn’t arrive in the United States until the end of last season. By then, he had spent about five weeks idle, he said. That left him playing a bit too heavy and a bit too out of synch, especially as he adjusted to the smaller surfaces in the NHL.
“That was pretty hard,” Soderberg said. “But if I had come right after the season, it would have been easier, I think.”
Soderberg made it into six games in the regular season, and then was pressed into duty during the last two games of the Stanley Cup Final, playing 14 minutes in Game 5 and 10 in Game 6. He made it up as high on the depth chart as the No. 2 center after Patrice Bergeron was injured in Game 5, skating on a line with Brad Marchand and Jaromir Jagr, even though he hadn’t played in two months.
He spent the summer working out, trying to shed some unwanted pounds, as he readied for his first NHL training camp, his first real shot at a regular spot.
“I tried to stay in good shape,” Soderberg said. “I lost some pounds, too. Hopefully I’m faster this year.”
He didn’t lose much weight — perhaps 7 or 8 pounds from a 6-foot-3-inch, 198-pound frame. As he put it, “A lot of the guys are real light, so I wanted to be in the same shape as they are.”
Coach Claude Julien noticed that Soderberg was looking around the dressing room last season, registering just how well-conditioned players need to be in the NHL. Julien called it “eye-opening” for Soderberg.
“He’s lost weight but he’s also gained some muscle,” said Julien. “He was already a strong player to start with. I think he’s looking good. When we see him in those battle drills, he’s pretty strong on the puck and we like that about him. He’s got a good skill level, can shoot the puck well, and make plays.”
One thing that helps Soderberg is his versatility. He said Friday that he can play center or either wing.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’ve played left wing, right wing in Sweden, so I can play everything.”
Chris Kelly seems to be the only definite member of the third line, but he could be slotted in at center or wing, perhaps to accommodate Soderberg. Other options for that line include Jordan Caron, Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser, Craig Cunningham, Anthony Camara, Jared Knight, and Ryan Spooner.
Soderberg has been centering a line with Fraser and Cunningham through the first two days of training camp.
Julien would not be opposed to using three left-shot player on that line, saying, “You work with what you’ve got.”
Soderberg, Kelly, Caron, Fraser, Smith, Camara, and Spooner are all left shots.
Soderberg, meanwhile, is hoping that being in Boston for training camp eases his continued transition to the NHL game, and he is certain he’ll get chances to make that transition with the Bruins committed to seeing a lot of him in exhibition play.
While he said that the time he spent with the Bruins last season “meant so much to me,” he acknowledged that he is in a situation where he is both new and not so new. He already got the chance to meet his teammates, meet the staff, get a look at the speed and size in the NHL.
But that doesn’t mean he’ll fit into what the Bruins want for their third line. It doesn’t mean that he’s ready.
For now, the lighter, focused Soderberg is doing his best to impress the Bruins. He’s thinking only about Boston, only about that third line. Because when asked about whether he might end up in the AHL, in Providence, Soderberg said, “I don’t think about that now. I will earn my spot here.”Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.