TAMPA — It wasn’t an easy transition when Carl Soderberg came to the Bruins from Sweden toward the end of last season. He was out of shape, out of rhythm, and faced new challenges and greater competition. It was a struggle.
It got better as this season started, with Soderberg getting acclimated at left wing. But with the lineup changing around him — Reilly Smith, Loui Eriksson, Chris Kelly, Ryan Spooner — he still hadn’t exactly found himself.
That changed in late January, after Spooner fell ill for a game in Philadelphia.
Soderberg was needed as the third line center in the absence of Kelly. And with that move, his game just seemed to click.
“It’s more comfortable,” Soderberg said. “I’m not used to playing the wing and the hardest is when the D is pinching. I’m not used to that, playing the wing. It’s easier to become a centerman for me because I’m used to that.”
That’s understandable, at least in the eyes of the guy who used to center that line.
“I think you bring someone over from playing in Europe for his whole career and he’s a natural centerman, and you tell him we want you to come over and play on a smaller ice surface, we want you to play a different style of hockey, and then we want you to play a different position that you’ve never played before, I think those are a lot of things to ask of someone coming over,” Kelly said.
“I think Carl handled himself well when he came over. Obviously he was getting better and better on the wing every game, learning the systems, learning the North American style of hockey. To let him play his natural position has also been a bonus for him to get back into maybe his comfort zone.”
“He’s always been more comfortable there,” coach Claude Julien said. “He’s done a good job. He’s excelled, so we just felt it was probably a good idea to leave him there and see how it would work out with Chris on the wing, and so far it’s worked out well.
“He likes to skate. To put him on the wing, just going up and down . . . he likes to be all over the ice, so that allows him to do that as a centerman.”
Asked if that might be freeing for Soderberg, Julien said, “Exactly. Some people like that, some people don’t. They don’t want to cover the whole ice. But he likes to do that, so it’s been good for him, that transition.”
The transition, though, has not been entire. Playing with Kelly — also a center — the line has options.
They switch during the games, during shifts, and both have the ability to take faceoffs, the way that Kelly once played with Rich Peverley. That has been helped by being able to read off each other, and by their increased communication on ice — something Soderberg wasn’t used to when he first came to Boston.
“It kind of gives him a little more freedom than maybe he had before,” Kelly said.
So playing center has let him loose?
“A little bit,” Kelly said. “He let his hair down.”
Although Julien would not commit to which members of his defensive corps would be in the press box Saturday, it seems likely Andrej Meszaros and Corey Potter could get one more game upstairs before they make their Bruins debuts.
“Our six guys played pretty well [in Thursday’s win over Washington],” Julien said. “It might be a little tough to take those guys out, but at the same time we’re not going to let those guys just sit and not find out what they can give us before we get to the playoffs. It’s important to look at that aspect as well and make decisions accordingly as you go game-by-game.”
Bruins coaches have already showed Meszaros and Potter the system. They’re happy, for now, to let them get a chance to watch the game, especially from above. As Julien said, “You get a pretty good view from the top of how it works.’’
Chad Johnson broke out an all-white mask at the Tampa Bay Times Forum Friday. He had thought about wearing it to practice Wednesday, but didn’t want to confuse the media on trade deadline day . . . Potter skated with the Bruins for the first time Friday. He had arrived Thursday afternoon. “I found out just before the deadline ended that I was coming to Boston,” he said. “I was super excited. You want to get picked up by an NHL team. To hear it was the Bruins, they have a great organization and they always do well and get in the playoffs and have a chance at the Stanley Cup.” Potter was especially pleased at the dramatic move up the standings — from last in the Western Conference to second in the Eastern. “Losing is never fun, so this will be a lot better experience here. I’m excited for it,’’ said Potter . . . Bruins center Gregory Campbell was named as one of the Most Stylish Bostonians by the Globe.