Before the puck dropped in Saturday's matinee game between the Flyers and the Bruins, it was revealed that the winner of the annual Seventh Player Award was winger Reilly Smith.
The award, as always, is voted on by the fans and given to the Bruins player who most exceeded expectations throughout the course of the year.
In his first full-season in the NHL and his first with the Bruins, Smith has posted 19 goals (fifth on the team) and 30 assists (tied for fourth) for 49 total points (fifth on the team). Certainly some impressive numbers considering how many saw Smith to be a throw-in to the Tyler Seguin-Loui Eriksson trade that wen't down over the summer.
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Smith was a revelation for the Bruins through the first four months of the season, as he scored 15 goals playing on the second line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. When injuries to Loui Eriksson kept him out of action for extended periods of time, Smith slotted into his spot on the line and gave the Bruins their quickest attacking line they had.
But Smith tailed off dramatically from the end of January until today. He was mired in a 15-game goalless drought which he snapped on March 17, and has only one goal in his last 25 games played. Even though he's struggled, coach Claude Julien has yet to send him to the 9th floor to watch a game as a healthy scratch.
Where Smith started hot and cooled off considerably, it was another player in his first full season that started slow but flipped his season around in the last few months.
The consensus other favorite to take home the award was Carl Soderberg, who has blossomed as the third-line center for the B's in the last two and half months. After Julien put Soderberg in his natural center position right before the Olympic break, it marked the start of a new dynamic line that featured Eriksson and Chris Kelly.
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Soderberg has posted 16 goals, 30 assists for 46 total points, just three behind Smith. After starting the year slow and having been a rather invisible aspect of the team, Soderberg has become one of Boston's most valuable and versatile players.
What Soderberg brings to the table goes beyond his ability to register points. It's the way he goes about doing it. Soderberg uses his body and his vision to create plays out of nothing. He goes to the dirty areas of the ice and isn't afraid to bang bodies in order to free up space for himself or his teammates. He has a wicked burst of speed and great control of the puck in tight areas and in space.
Soderberg has been a more consistent and steady force for the Bruins over the course of the regular season than Smith. When Smith wasn't putting the puck in the net, he wasn't doing as much in other areas of play the way Soderberg did when he was having trouble finding his game.
At the end of the day, I think the fans got the vote wrong in giving Smith the award over Soderberg. That's not to say Smith isn't a worthy winner, as the case can be made for either of the players equally as strong. The same can be said for the likes of rookie defenseman Kevan Miller, backup goalie Chad Johnson or even Torey Krug.
Both Smith and Soderberg exceeded expectations this year, as no preseason outlooks could ever have foreseen the type of seasons they had. The two of them each have given the Bruins an element that has kept the team rolling along in their march towards clinching the #1 seed in the East.
I would have given the award to Soderberg.
What do you think? Did the fans get the vote right?