BOSTON -- Claude Julien has a message to all of those people that viewed Boston’s offseason trade with Dallas as simply a swap of Tyler Seguin and Loui Eriksson: There was a lot more coming Boston’s way than the underrated All-Star winger.
Matt Fraser and Reilly Smith aren’t household hockey names, but two former Stars have opened Julien’s eyes during the first week of training camp.
“Well, they’ve known [there is opportunity] from day one. We’ve made it clear to everybody that there are opportunities for guys here, and some young guys to come in so they're aware of that,” said Julien. “I think 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.
“So does Smith. Smith’s got more grit to his game, but also goes hard to the net and can shoot the puck well. So both those guys, I think, are great acquisitions. We can talk about Loui [Eriksson] and say how good of a player he is and rightfully so, but there’s some other guys that came along with him [in the trade] that I think are going to be NHLers.”
Julien’s comments don’t even count fellow trade acquisition Joe Morrow, the former first-round pick that’s come along slowly at training camp while recovering from an injury.
Smith has been paired with Chris Kelly and Jordan Caron during training camp practice, and he’s opened eyes with a tangible tenacity that goes along with the high-end skills.
At one point in three-on-three contact drills Smith was getting roughed up in front of the net, and answered with a cross-check rather than putting his rookie tail between his legs.
A long observation of Smith also uncovered some pretty crafty stick-work for a young player, and a guy that obviously didn’t mind getting his nose dirty despite being far from the biggest guy on the ice at 6-feet and 185 pounds.
Part of that may come from a 37-game stint with the Stars last season where he put up three goals and nine points, and started to establish himself as an NHL player at 21 years old.
“It’s a big difference coming from Dallas to Boston. There are a lot higher expectations,” said Smith, who played youth hockey with Tyler Seguin for five years while both were growing up in the suburbs of Toronto. “Just because I played some games in Dallas last year doesn’t mean anything in Boston this year.
“I’m just trying to win a spot here, and do what I can do without over-extending myself. I’m very grateful that Dallas gave me a chance to get my feet wet. I feel like it really helped my game and my maturity level, as far as being confident with the puck.”
Fraser is skating in the other practice group on a line with Craig Cunningham and Carl Soderberg, and clearly isn’t as physical as Smith in practice and scrimmage situations. But Fraser’s quick release from the face-off circles and the slot area has made NHL goaltenders look ordinary during camp, and is a big reason why the 6-foot-2, 200 pounder has an AHL-best 70 goals over the last two seasons.
One scout said this to CSNNE.com about Fraser: “He’s one of those guys that will blend in and disappear for stretches of the game, but then will all of a sudden strike with that shot of his. He’s dangerous with the puck on his stick.”
The deadly release and accurate shot wasn’t enough to get him drafted as a younger player, but it’s going to be his ticket to an NHL job in the near future. Fraser labeled himself a “late bloomer” in the hockey world, but feels comfortable about the path that he’s foraging moving forward.
“When it comes down to it, I just want to be an NHL player,” said Fraser. “It’s a lot easier said than done given how many good players there are in the American Hockey League, and the NHL. But for me it’s about making sure I’m consistent.
“Everybody wants to be in the NHL, but it’s the guys that do everything very well day in and day out that end up staying here.”
His size, tendencies on the ice and pure shot brought to mind memories of Glenn Murray in a Black and Gold uniform, and the current B’s management would take a healthy portion of that player’s production these days.
It’s likely only one of Smith and Fraser will win a third-line position with the NHL club, and it would appear that Smith has the inside track given his performance at camp. But it doesn’t seem a stretch that both forwards will contribute at some point this season in Boston.
For a team that’s a little short on organizational depth at the wing beyond the resurgent Jared Knight, the young, unproven Anthony Camara and Caron at a career crossroads in Boston, Fraser and Smith represent an early win in the Seguin trade that shocked the Hub's hockey world around the Fourth of July.