In the Claude Julien era, one of the calling cards of the Bruins during their more successful years has been team depth.
It's one of the reasons that last season’s run to the Stanley Cup Final vs. Chicago was so impressive, in that Boston made it that far with a gaping hole on its third line. A little over a quarter (23 games of 82) through this season, the Bruins’ third line has been a catalyst for their early success (15-6-2, first in the Eastern Conference). Chris Kelly (three goals, four assists) has been the same guy he has always been. But the big difference has been the addition of Reilly Smith (four goals, 11 assists) and Carl Soderberg (three goals, seven assists).
Coming into 2013-14, both Smith and Soderberg were a bit of a mystery in their own unique ways. A right wing, Smith is only 22 and he appeared to be the throw-in for the Tyler Seguin-Loui Eriksson trade over the summer. While it has taken Eriksson more time to get comfortable (and also recover from a concussion), Smith has been consistently good from Day 1. After his goal on Saturday vs. Carolina, that made it 2-1 Bruins, Smith has two goals and two assists in his last four games and three goals and six assists in his last 11 games. The young wing has the second-most assists and total points on the team and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who is exceeding expectations greater on the B's.
“With every day here, you build confidence," Smith said. "I try to focus on the little things and I think the last couple weeks, the bottom six forwards (third and fourth lines) have done a better job.”
Naturally a center, Soderberg appeared in six games for the Bruins last season but it was clear that it would take some time for him to get used to playing in the NHL after years in the Swedish Elite League. The Bruins’ front office has to be pleased with his development, particularly since it took them years to coerce him to come to the NHL. Like Smith, Soderberg is also heating up with two goals and two assists in his last four games, including an assist on Smith’s goal vs. the Hurricanes. You can see him becoming more comfortable with the speed and style of the NHL. It also has to help to have his fellow countryman (Sweden) Eriksson around since the transition to life in the U.S. has to be difficult.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate