Camp notes: assessing potential line three candidates

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Healthy competition will undoubtedly bring out the best in an individual and in this case we’re talking about the candidates battling it out for the Bruins’ third line vacancies. We know Chris Kelly will center the line. But which two wingers will flank the veteran pivot man?

The Bruins have 28 forwards in training camp this year. 18 of them are vying to leave a lasting impression on the coaching staff with the hopes of earning a starting spot in the lineup. But the reality of it is only a handful have a legitimate opportunity of cracking the squad.

I personally feel Jordan Caron, Matt Fraser, Nick Johnson, Reilly Smith, Carl Soderberg and Ryan Spooner all possess the tools needed to play and succeed at the NHL level come October. They each bring a unique skill set to the table and can certainly provide adequate production to what should be a successful Bruins team this upcoming season.

At first glance, Caron and Soderberg may appear to be the front running candidates for locking up the openings. Caron has proven the ability to score at the NHL level. In 2011, Caron notched 15 points in 48 games. His game regressed last season and as a result spent the majority of the year skating in Providence. He is only 22 years old and if he is going to take his game to the next level anytime soon, now is the time.

Soderberg is an interesting guy to keep an eye on. He dominated the Swedish Elite League a year ago, as he recorded 60 points in 54 games with Linkopings HC. There’s no doubting Soderberg’s offensive talent. The question is can he play smart hockey on consistent basis, play with physicality when the situation calls for it and be a responsible two-way forward? If he exhibits those traits during the preseason then he should be an easy choice for line three.

Matt Fraser and Reilly Smith came over from Dallas as a pair of package pieces in the Tyler Seguin trade this past July. I have not personally seen these guys play (aside from Fraser against Montreal on Monday) but according to many, they are promising talents and project to be NHL caliber players.

Fraser spent the majority of last season playing with the Texas Stars, the AHL affiliate of Dallas. He showed offensive explosiveness, as he banged in 33 goals and tallied 13 assists. Fraser also appeared in 12 NHL games with Dallas last year.

Reilly Smith has spent parts of the past two seasons playing in Dallas. At the AHL level last year, Smith scored 14 goals and assisted on 21 others. Following the lockout he joined Dallas and appeared in 37 games. He accumulated 9 points.

Spooner has exhibited steady progression in Providence. He has one full season under his belt in which he posted impressive offensive numbers. His 17 goals and 40 assists caught the attention of the Bruins. He was called up to Boston and appeared in 4 games in 2013. Spooner is lightning quick and is an instinctive playmaker. He could seamlessly make the jump this season.

And then there is Nick Johnson, a relatively unknown guy. He has played for the Penguins, Wild and Coyotes. He’s not a guy who is going to wow you offensively, but can be relied upon in a defensive role and that might be just what Claude Julien is looking for. If Johnson can hold his own this preseason, I feel he is viable healthy scratch option to begin the season at the NHL level.

When push comes to shove and the time comes to make final roster decisions, Spooner and Caron are the two I predict to earn the line three jobs. Johnson and Soderberg will earn healthy scratch roster spots. Fraser and Smith will begin the season in Providence, but will certainly be called upon at one point or another and provide an instant impact in Boston.

Although depending upon performance, obviously, any of these guys mentioned could work out just as effectively as the other alongside Kelly.

Frank O’Laughlin – Senior Contributor – TitleTown Sports Network

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