BOSTON -- There are parts of the ice where some players fear to tread.
The area near the start of the blue paint is one of those places where physical harm can come to someone who not only skates past it but stops there. It takes a certain type of courage to set up shop too near the opposition's goaltender.
Now that Boston Bruins forward Carl Soderberg has shaken off the rust from a lengthy injury absence and gotten comfortable playing in North America, he has proven to be one of those fearless types that's willing to "get dirty," as the parlance goes.
"Yeah, you got to," Soderberg said. "But still in front of the net, you score goals and get points. So it's important to have players who go to the net. And I want to be one of them."
Although the numbers -- two goals and eight points in 15 games entering the Bruins' game Thursday against the visiting St. Louis Blues (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US) -- don't intimate a player who's made a big impact with the Bruins, Soderberg can be excused for a lack of production because he missed the first six games of the season with a severe ankle injury. And when he came back he played with his ankle heavily taped.
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So coming out of his first NHL training camp with Boston, the native of Sweden had to deal with an injury in addition to the normal adjustments to a new league, new city and the battle he had for a job among the Bruins' top nine forwards. A point-per-game forward in his homeland, Soderberg had to start from scratch in the NHL. His six-game debut with Boston at the end of the regular season (plus two games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs) hardly could have permitted him time to put down roots.
Soderberg recently has started to show what he can do. He ended a seven-game goal drought Nov. 18 against the Carolina Hurricanes, and he's been a major factor on his line, along with center Chris Kelly and right wing Reilly Smith, winning most of its shifts while spending the majority of those on the attack. In the Bruins' four-line philosophy, no trio can be a weak link. It's no coincidence Soderberg, Kelly and Smith have played better now that they've been together for several games in a row. And Soderberg has elevated that line's play with the skills that made him a second-round pick (No. 49) of the Blues in the 2004 NHL Draft.
"I think he's come along well. … [He's] of those guys on our team that is really gritty and heavy around the net area and he battles hard," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "He's not afraid to go there. He's got a heavy stick in those areas. And I think he's getting used to playing the wing. A guy who's played center a good portion of his life, there's a bit of an adjustment at staying on the wing and playing that role, so I think he's getting more and more comfortable. I like the direction he's going in. He seems to be getting better, more comfortable and obviously seems to make something happen every game."
For the longest time it didn’t seem like anything ever would happen with Soderberg as far as the NHL was concerned. The Blues traded Soderberg's rights to the Bruins after the 2006-07 season for goaltender Hannu Toivonen. Soderberg said the relationship between him and the Blues was "frosty" because he wanted to continue to develop at home rather than in North America.
"We were done with each other," Soderberg said.
That season he sustained an eye injury from a high stick. Just 21, Soderberg wasn't sure whether his career, never mind an eventual stint in the NHL, would happen. He said that by the time he was 25 and starting to love the game again, the NHL again became a goal.
After he had 31 goals and 60 points in 54 games for Linkopings HC in the Swedish Hockey League last season, he signed with the Bruins. He had two assists in his limited action and said he never felt awkward about joining a team so late in the season.
"It was kind of unreal for me because … five years ago I didn't think I'd play hockey again at all in the NHL," Soderberg said. "And I didn't know if I would play hockey at all. So I love it here."
Off the ice Soderberg said living in Boston with his wife Carolina has just been like living in Europe. There haven’t been any mishaps living in a new country and a new city. Maybe more important, he's found a spot in the Bruins' lineup.
Kelly has had too many linemates to count since joining the Bruins in 2011. He's enjoying Soderberg's presence, especially when the 6-foot-3, 216-pound forward is spitting distance for the opposing goaltender.
"Which is great to see," Kelly said. "He's a big guy and that's not always the case. A big guy doesn't always want to take that punishment. But he does and he's been rewarded a few times, which is nice to see."