SUNRISE, Fla. — When Brad Marchand struggled to find his game, coach Claude Julien moved him to the third line Saturday against Columbus. He remained there on Monday, and seems likely to be there on Thursday against Florida after skating on the third line in Wednesday’s practice.
Making that move easier is Reilly Smith, the young forward obtained from Dallas in the Tyler Seguin-Loui Eriksson deal.
“He’s a young player and what I see in this young player, he seems to be getting better all the time with confidence,” Julien said. “You see his skill level is pretty good. His hockey sense and his vision is also pretty good.
“I think we’re going to discover that this guy is only going to get better as he progresses and gets more experience. I think he’s got the ability to possibly be a guy that can move up there, whether it’s permanently or at times. He’s got that skill level, but no matter what, he’s a good player and I like the way he plays. He’s conscientious and very reliable for a player that has more or less limited experience in this league.”
Smith had 40 games of NHL experience before he arrived in Boston, 37 coming in the lockout- shortened 2012-13 season. He also had an added benefit, especially as the Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Eriksson trio failed to find chemistry immediately.
Smith had played with Eriksson, spending about two weeks on the same line, according to Smith.
That helped with the transition, which immediately yielded a goal against the Blue Jackets. Eriksson tallied another goal Monday against Detroit, with an assist going to Smith. Smith now has 3 points, all assists, in five games.
“They know each other well, and you can see that even on those two-on-ones when they go together,” Julien said. “They can read off each other pretty well so it’s obvious that they’ve been together before, that they know each other a little bit better than we know them.”
And that familiarity has been helped even more by the faith the coaching staff has shown in Smith.
“It gives you confidence because it shows that they rely enough on me,” Smith said. “When you get the opportunity to play with good players, you tend to be a little more hesitant with the puck, try to give them the puck more. And so one thing you try to focus on is not trying to rush plays, and if you have time and space to skate the puck you do that.
“But so far it’s been great playing with those two guys because they’re so talented. They make it really easy on me.”
Carl Soderberg took part in a full-contact practice for the first time since injuring his ankle in the final preseason game. Julien said Soderberg might be a game or two away from playing at this point. “I think it’s important that we get players in,” Julien said. “He had a really good camp, it’s unfortunate he got hurt then. And when the time comes, I’m going to have to make that decision . . . I’d certainly like get him in there if I could.” . . . Julien reiterated he doesn’t want to keep any of his defensemen in the stands for too long, though he declined to say who would be the healthy scratch on Thursday. Dougie Hamilton played the first three games of the season, then was swapped out for Matt Bartkowski for the last two.