Carl or Reilly? The race for the Seventh Player Award
The Bruins Seventh Player Award is handed out ever year to the player who has performed above and beyond what was expected of him through the course of the season.
Past winners of the award include Doug Hamilton (2013), Tyler Seguin (2012), Brad Marchand (2011), Tuukka Rask (2010), David Krejci (2009)and Milan Lucic (2008).
So who's deserving of the award this year? Which Bruins player has exceeded expectations and performed at a level no one could have seen coming before the season started?
In all likelihood, the decision will come down to Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith. Both players have 'come out of nowhere' from preseason forecasts to provide the team with some outstanding play.
Smith and Soderberg have performed way beyond expectations (via hockeyjournal.com)
After getting a brief taste of the NHL last season, Soderberg started slow in his first full season in the NHL. He posted just 12 points (3 goals, 9 assists) in the first two months of the season. It took him some time to get adjusted, but since he's found his legs, Soderberg has done nothing but impress.
Soderberg has excelled in his third-line role for the Black and Gold, posting 12 goals and 28 assists for 40 points. After sliding into his natural position at center to play alongside fellow linemates Chris Kelly and Loui Eriksson, Soderberg has been the catalyst for a line that has posted 23 points since February 26.
Soberberg has excelled in his first full-season (via skysports.com)
But Soderberg's importance goes beyond the offensive numbers. His vision, strength and intelligence is arguably more impressive than the numbers he's put up in the stat column. He jams in front of the net and in the corners. He isn't afraid to use his frame, bang bodies and get physical. The skills he has as a puck-carrier and a passer give the Bruins a level of versatility that is unheard of for a third-line skater.
And then there's Reilly Smith. Smith seemed to have the award in the bag through the first four months of the season, when his unexpected tear netted him 18 goals and had 22 assists for 40 total points. With Loui Eriksson missing significant time due to multiple concussions, Smith jumped up to the second-line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand and the combination instantly clicked, providing the Bruins with their quickest and most skilled line they had.
As the team dealt with a multitude of injuries early in the season, Smith gave the Bruins an unexpected yet steady scoring punch that kept them rolling game by game. He scored game-winning goals vs Florida and Calgary and netted three multi-goal games in November and December. His speed and skills blended perfectly with Marchand and Bergeron, and he hasn't been moved off the second line since sliding up to the position back in November.
Smith is one goal away from 20 (via Bostonglobe.com)
But Smith has tailed off dramatically since then, posting just one goal and six assists since February 2nd. His put-back goal vs the Wild Monday night snapped his 16 game-goalless drought which hopefully takes the mental pressure off the 22 year-old as the season winds down and the playoffs beckon.
So who get's the benefit of the doubt? Smith for giving the Bruins a scoring punch early in the year, yet tailing off since then, or Soderberg, who started slow but has since become an integral part of a revamped line that has played some of their best hockey on the team?
My vote would go to Soderberg. Soderberg provides the Bruins with more ability, skill and versatility over Smith. The 28-year-old Swede has been the more consistent player of the two over the course of the season, and his play since coming back from the Olympic break has been some of the best on the team. Smith has the edge in total points at 47 to 40. Yet Soderberg does so many things that don't show up on the stat sheet; playing the body, getting physical and going into the dirty areas of the ice. In short, he has morphed into the perfect Bruin, and his surge over the past month-plus should result in the hardware come the end of the season.