Fraser, Smith Impress Julien as "Third Line" Spot There for the Taking
BostonBruins.com - When the Bruins made the July 4 trade with Dallas, the main piece was right winger Loui Eriksson.
"It's been well-documented, we've got to rebuild our right side," General Manager Peter Chiarelli had said, emphasizing that status. "So he's the first piece."
The focus was mostly on the winger, considering the place most had him pegged for before he even set foot in Boston and pulled on the spoked-B, was Tyler Seguin's former spot alongside left winger Brad Marchand and center Patrice Bergeron.
Considered to be in the slew of "young forwards" vying for a spot on the big club, Julien has liked what he's seen. From day one, they've known a spot was there for the taking.
"We’ve made it clear to everybody that there’s opportunities for guys here, some young guys to come in, so they're aware of that," Julien told reporters following the third day of on-ice sessions at Training Camp.
"When you look at both those players, I’ve said it before, Matt Fraser is known as a real high-end, skilled player and you can see he has really good skills, shoots the puck well and so does Smith."
"Smith’s got more grit to his game, but also goes hard to the net and can shoot the puck well also. So both of those guys I think are great acquisitions."
"We can talk about Loui and say how good of a player he is and rightfully so, but there’s some other guys that came along with him that I think are going to be NHLers."
Fraser's Versatile Style
Fraser scored more goals (90) in the past two seasons than any other player in the American Hockey League. Julien has liked what he's seen of that shot so far, even if it is just in practice situations and not in game action.
The winger has been playing on the left side during camp with Carl Soderberg as his centerman and Craig Cunningham on the right. The trio has been finding some chemistry, with he and "Cunny," both former Western Hockey League players, jokingly sharing a "sixth sense," according to Fraser, and Soderberg using his strength to take the puck to the net and find them in the open areas.
"There’s obviously a lot of chatter about spots being open, and it’s obviously exciting for a player like myself. I feel like I can step in there," said Fraser, before making sure to add that he's in the mix with every guy at camp, competing for a spot.
Julien labeled Fraser a "high-end, skilled" forward, but he's also says he doesn't shy away from being physical. We haven't necessarily seen a real hard-nosed side to his game during practices, but games will give us a much better glimpse. He's told me before that he's not afraid to drop the gloves; he'll do whatever it takes to be an "impact player," whether it means scoring (he's done that a lot), getting in a fight, "or whatever it may be."
"In Texas, I was turned into more of a points guy and that was just because that was the role that I accepted," said the 6'1", 204-pound winger, of the two seasons he spent in the AHL with the Texas Stars, putting up 121 points with his 90 goals.
"In Junior [WHL], I was always kind of a rugged forward and could shoot the puck and score and use my body to make room for myself and make room for my teammates."
"And look at the Bruins; look at how versatile all their forwards are and how good they are. I just feel like I fit in well here and it kind of plays well with how I play."
Entering his third year pro, he's now eyeing a full-time role. "Those couple years in Dallas, you’re just kind of getting your feet wet and getting your feet underneath you," he said. "You kind of get to the point where you’re here, you want to make an impact, you want to make a splash."
"I really feel like this is my year to do that and to show Boston that I don’t want to be just a player in the American League; I want to be a Boston Bruin and I want to play in the NHL."
Smith Shows Grit
When B's GM Peter Chairelli labeled Reilly Smith a "silky smooth type of right winger" after the trade went through, we weren't necessarily expecting a real "goes hard to the net" type of player like Julien has seen this week at camp.
"I’m not a guy that’s going to beat most people up, but I try to help out my teammates, be a playmaker, and, when I get the opportunity to score, make sure it goes in the back of the net," Smith had told me in August, before heading to Boston for camp.
In fact, the 6'0", 185-pound winger isn't shy about the fact that he's not always one of the strongest players, throwing his body around.
"I'm not one of the biggest guys on the ice, as you can tell probably by the camera here, but even though it probably does add 10 pounds," joked Smith, when I interviewed him on BostonBruinsTV for the first time at the start of camp.
"I'm still one of the smaller guys; I'm not big on crashing and banging, but if that's the role they want me to play, I'll do that. I'm more of a skilled forward who tries to set my teammates up, and finishes when I get the chance."
I think it's worth noting that the interview took place just before he started playing the right wing with Chris Kelly as his centerman and Jordan Caron on the left for the first three days of camp. Kelly and Caron play with a heavy dose of grit, go hard on the forecheck and both don't shy away from the front of the net. So it's easy to make the connection, that Smith has made a quick transition to taking on that same style of play. (Writer's note: will get Reilly's take on if he feels he's picked up that part of his game being on Kelly's line).
"With Reilly, I've been impressed the first two days we've been skating together," said Kelly of his right winger this week. "I know there's competition for our so-called third line, and competition is great."
Smith appeared in 37 games with the Dallas last season, putting up a 3-6=9 stat line. He alternated wings, and mostly played with Cody Eakin and Ryan Garbutt, spending the majority of his time in a "bottom six" role.
His nine points may not have been the output the winger was looking for at the NHL level, but entering his second year pro, he has high expectations for himself, "someone who can contribute on an everyday basis and someone who's not a liability on defense," he told me.
In fact, he said he chose the college route at Miami of Ohio to further develop his two-game, having competed in a "very offensive" Junior A league in Toronto. It served well in helping him become a better all-around and "more responsible player," as he labels it.
"There's a spot on the line and everyone wants to get it," said Smith. " So you're going to try your best to give yourself the advantage at all times."
Third Line Style
Any player who cracks the lineup, whether it's Smith, Fraser, Caron or any number of players in Black & Gold this week working towards that goal, two-way, responsible play will be the premium.
"I hope we do a bit of everything," said Chris Kelly, when I asked him the dynamic of the third line he's anchored. "Obviously, our goal is to be a defensive line, defensively sound, but contribute offensively."
"Ideally, we saw the third line that we’ve liked when we won the Cup," Julien said at the start of Training Camp, when asked by media what's he looking for in that role.
"We had Kelly, we had [Rich] Peverley, we had [Michael] Ryder. Not only were they kind of a dependable line but they were able to give us some scoring. In the real perfect world…Your third line should be able to give you some secondary scoring and then your third line should also be able to give you some secondary grit that the fourth line gives you."
That reason alone has led Julien to keep the option open of moving Daniel Paille up to the third line, though he admits it would be tough to break the chemistry of the "Merlot Line" with Shawn Thornton and Gregory Campbell.
"So they're kind of, to me, caught in the middle where they give you a little bit of both and that is what we are looking for from that line," Julien added. "We need more than just two lines to score. We know our fourth line has given us that but our third line needs to give us that as well and at the same time, defensively and on the gritty side of the game they got to be able to give us that too."
Julien: It's Up to Them
Whether Smith or Fraser fit into that dynamic and are in the mix on opening night or not, the NHL-ready players are on track to have in impact.
Chiarelli has said they will both challenge for spots, and will get a chance to play, whether by making the team out of camp, or serving as injury call-ups from Providence throughout the season.
Julien easily sees that depth playing into the B's advantage.
"It’s pretty exciting because, to me, it just gives us that much more depth of players you know that can play," said the bench boss.
"So it’s up to them now to stick and to make their spot. Obviously there is a lot of competition there, but it's pretty exciting because there are going to be a lot of options and a lot of tough decisions when the time comes to make those."