A strong case could be made for Carl Soderberg as the Boston Bruins’ most improved player from last season.
The 28-year-old center made his Bruins debut in 2013 and played in just six regular-season games before being put in the Stanley Cup Final when injuries hurt the team’s depth.
After a full training camp and almost an entire season of NHL experience with Boston, Soderberg is becoming an important member of the team as the third-line center.
From an offensive standpoint, Soderberg has been excellent, specifically as a playmaker. He has a high hockey IQ and great awareness, as well as the ability to possess the puck in traffic. His 20 primary assists are one less than David Krejci’s team-leading 21, and just nine fewer than likely Hart Trophy winner Sidney Crosby.
Here’s how Soderberg compares to his teammates in several scoring categories.
In the 17 games following the Winter Olympic break, Soderberg has played the best hockey of his career. He’s tallied 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in that span, while also improving on faceoffs.
One of Soderberg’s biggest strengths is his size. At 6-foot-3 and 216 pounds, he’s not easy to move from the front of the net. His ability to set quality screens and get sticks on loose pucks in the crease are valuable assets to the Bruins. This was evident in Saturday’s 4-2 win over the Washington Capitals when Soderberg deflected a Patrice Bergeron shot past goaltender Braden Holtby to give Boston a power-play goal and a 2-0 lead. He also picked up two assists for a game-high three points.
Speaking of the power play, head coach Claude Julien has not been afraid to give Soderberg chances to shine with the man advantage. The Swedish forward has been on the ice for 40.1 percent of Boston’s power-play ice time per game, which ranks fourth on the team among forwards.
Soderberg is also making a difference in his own zone with consistent back checking, good positional defense and a willingness to go into the corners to regain possession of the puck. He’s tallied 34 blocked shots, 45 hits and 28 takeaways.
Julien doesn’t put players at center who don’t play defense consistently and cover the majority of the ice. For Soderberg to replace a quality defensive forward such as Chris Kelly at center on the third line after just one season of experience in Boston’s challenging zone-marking system is quite impressive. He played center in Sweden, but the position is more difficult in the NHL from a defensive perspective.
Soderberg’s performance over the last month is an encouraging sign for the Bruins going into the playoffs. A lack of bottom-six scoring was a major issue for Boston in the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks last season, but with Soderberg thriving at center on the third line, that shouldn’t be a problem for the Bruins over the next few months.