After more than five years of waiting, Carl Soderberg finally made his debut over the weekend with the Boston Bruins. The Bruins first acquired the rights to the 6’3”, 207 lb. forward in a summer 2007 deal with the St. Louis Blues for goaltender Hannu Toivonen. Since then, Boston had been waiting on the big Swede to decide whether or not he had any aspirations to play in the National Hockey League. After finally reaching an agreement just over a week ago, Soderberg made his NHL debut over the weekend.
On arrival, Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien appointed Soderberg to take in some NHL action from the press box. The differences between the North American- and European-style of play have been well-documented. In Europe, a larger ice surface lends itself to more wide-open hockey, with an emphasis on speed and puck possession. North American hockey is predicated more on contact, defensive scheming, and less time and space with the puck.
Aside from his first few seasons in the Elitserien (Swedish Elite League), Soderberg has finished each year with a positive rating. This past season, his second with Linkoping HC, the 27-year-old finished with a +18 rating. Soderberg led the SEL with 31 goals and was second in the league with 60 points in 54 games played. He had 48 penalty minutes.
By the time Julien felt that Soderberg was ready to contribute on the ice, he seemingly took the big guy’s leash off right from the start. Though the lefty lined up on the left wing, rather than his preferred position up the middle, Number 34 saw 16:10 of ice time (1:59 on the powerplay) and skated alongside future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr.
Julien made the right call here to give Soderberg a chance to develop a rapport with Jagr, who plays a possession game similar to what Soderberg largely grew up around in Europe. In his second NHL game, Soderberg even picked up the assist on Jagr’s first period marker. As far as offensive-styling goes, Soderberg could do worse than to learn a thing or two on how another large winger like Jagr uses his body to protect the puck and make smart plays. Jagr, himself, has recently played full winters overseas and has likely blended the lessons he learned while on his Kontinental Hockey League sabbatical into his overall game. Allowing Soderberg time on the powerplay will also help him to keep his poise while adjusting to the bigger, stronger, faster NHL game.
Rounding out the line with Soderberg and Jagr on the wing is one of Boston’s most dependable, reliable two-way centers in Chris Kelly. The defensive-minded alternate captain seemed to be an essential component to attach to the two offensively-gifted wingers, especially in Julien’s defense-first system. Skating with such a reliable veteran like Kelly, Soderberg will have a bit more leeway while he adjusts his game.
After two games played, Soderberg has seemed to handle the physicality of the NHL pretty well. His debut against the Pittsburgh Penguins in particular, the Swede saw plenty of the other squad’s black and gold in his face, but he handled it well. Soderberg isn’t a small guy; it was a start to see him dish out two hits over the weekend, but the larger concern is that he can handle receiving an NHL hit.
With such a small sample size, I don’t think it’s fair to give Soderberg any grade other than an incomplete. The rookie has looked a little out of his element at times, which is almost expected from a European skater adjusting to both the NHL and the North American game. “Yeah, it’s a new system, too,” Soderberg said following his first NHL game. “It’s a lot of things to think about out there, so hopefully I can learn a lot of things every day and get in [Boston’s] system so I fit in the team.”
It remains to be seen where Soderberg will ultimately fit with this Bruins squad. Even with large chunks of time on ice in his first two games, there aren’t many games remaining for Soderberg to exhibit his skill set to prove to the Boston brass that he is the cure for their ailing offense. With Boston’s forwards getting healthy at the right time, the Bruins hope that Soderberg can, at the very least, provide secondary scoring and add a new dimension to a notoriously poor powerplay. If this short stretch of remaining games seems like a trial by fire, Carl Soderberg‘s first taste of NHL playoff hockey is just over a week away.