LOS ANGELES — Avalanche center Carl Soderberg was on the opening-night roster, but he wasn’t really part of the team’s plans. The Avs were rebuilding with youth — particularly down the middle with rookie centers J.T. Compher, Alex Kerfoot, Tyson Jost and Dominic Toninato — and they were willing to put Soderberg’s big contract on the bench.
Soderberg, 32, was a healthy scratch Oct. 5 at the New York Rangers because Colorado wanted youth and speed to replace significantly slower 30-somethings. The Avs used a buyout on 37-year-old defenseman Francois Beauchemin, but they chose to continue with Soderberg and his $4.75 million contract. Multiple buyouts were deemed too costly.
In some ways, the Avs were stuck with the Swede.
Ten weeks later, they’re thrilled to still have him.
“Coming out of training camp, we had all these young centers — Kerfoot, Compher, Jost, obviously (Nathan) MacKinnon and we had (Matt) Duchene at that point — and you want to try to give those guys a look in their natural positions,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “Now, some of those guys are playing wing and (Soderberg) has become the pivot in that checking role, where we can put him out against the top lines from the opposition.”
Soderberg has become one of the Avs’ top forwards. He’s fifth among forwards in average ice time (16:57) — trailing only Compher and the three members of the top line — Gabe Landeskog, MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen — and he’s playing in all situations. He’s killing penalties, serving as the net-front presence on the power play, and he and his wingers — Matt Nieto and Blake Comeau — are Bednar’s first choice in the opponent’s empty-net situation.
“We’re all reliable in the D-zone and we create some offense too. It’s a good line,” Soderberg said. “We’re a checking line, but we’re still skilled players who create offense too.”
The Avs are 15-14-1 with Soderberg in the lineup. In addition to opening night, Soderberg didn’t play in the two games in Sweden against Ottawa because his wife was due to give birth to the couple’s third child that week. Carl-Frederik Soderberg, Carl’s first son, was born a few days after the Avs went 0-1-1 in Sweden.
In general, the softspoken Soderberg has had a wonderful fall and early winter. He doesn’t talk much, and he doesn’t have a nickname, but his play speaks volumes to Colorado’s early-season success after the disaster that was 2016-17.
“I looked pretty good in camp and was scratched the first night. But I was ready for a challenge and to have a good season,” he said.
Soderberg had 13 points (four goals) in 30 games entering Thursday night’s late game against the Kings, just one point and two goals shy of what he had in 80 games last season.
“He just has a real good attitude and has carved himself a role, and he’s been playing that role to the best of his ability on a consistent basis,” Bednar said. “He’s got a lot of unique talents that he provides. Five-on-5, he’s played against our opponent’s top line all year — a checking line, if you will — and they contribute offensively as a group as well. They tend to come up big when we need secondary scoring. They’re a trusted group defending the lead, 5-on-6 with the empty net.
“They’re just our most veteran line, and on the power play and special teams in general, Soderberg has been great. He’s one of our left-handed centermen who takes some draws on the penalty kill; and on the power play he’s a net-front guy, a big man down low who always seems to be at or near the net causing some screens. He’s getting his stick on tips, he’s good on working off the goal line.”