Haggerty: B's should put Spooner on NHL roster

Haggerty: B's should put Spooner on NHL roster
September 27, 2013, 10:00 am
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WINNIPEG – Has it gotten to a point where the Bruins can’t keep Ryan Spooner off the NHL roster?

The 21-year-old Spooner put on a show again Thursday night in Winnipeg scoring the game-tying goal in the third period, and setting up the game-winner in overtime in a 3-2 victory over the Jets at MTS Centre. It clearly needs to be noted that the Jets weren’t playing without their top line or top pseudo-shutdown defenseman in Zach Bogosian with the exhibition season still in full effect, but that didn’t stop Spooner from shining once again given the opportunity by Bruins management.

He was dangling through the offensive zone with the Bruins trailing by a goal when he sped through the right face-off circle, and fired a puck from the high point just as Matt Fraser had camped himself in front of the net.

“That was a great play by Spoons, and a good job by Fraser setting the screen in front,” said Claude Julien. “Those are the kinds of things that we were talking about after not playing well in the second period. “He’s been good. He opened some eyes . . . there’s no doubt about that. His skating and playmaking ability [are there to see]. There are still some areas that we talk about him improving, but he’s certainly in the mix and he’s put himself into the conversation when we’re making those [roster] decisions.”

That tied up the game at 2-2, and then Spooner took advantage of a nice entry pass from Dennis Seidenberg that freed up Loui Eriksson and Spooner for a 2-on-1 in overtime.

The two skilled players executed the traditional give-and-go play with Spooner throwing a pass off Eriksson’s skate that the skilled Swede transferred to his stick, and then roofed past Ondrej Pavelec for the game-winner.

Beyond those two actual scoring plays, there were a handful of other scoring chances that Spooner set up while skating with Matt Fraser and Jordan Caron for most of the game.

It’s a difficult situation for GM Peter Chiarelli because there’s clearly no room at the NHL inn for Spooner right this minute. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are as entrenched as two players could be as the two top six centers on the Black and Gold, and that’s part of the reason Tyler Seguin was dealt over the summer. Bruins management simply couldn’t envision a scenario where Seguin was going to unseat either player, so one excellent training camp performance isn’t going to suddenly change that stance.

But with each play that Spooner sets up with his breathtaking skating speed and savvy playmaking skills is another piece of proof positive that the kid is NHL ready right now. Spooner leads the Bruins with 14 shots on net in his five preseason games played, and has four points (1 goal, 3 assists) in that handful of exhibition games.

Better yet, the youngster has shown the capability to play all three zones for a Bruins coaching staff that demands it and hasn’t had a problem successfully fulfilling all the capabilities of a center in Claude Julien’s system. The latest example was on Thursday night after Spooner had struggled throughout the preseason in the face-off circle: he went out and won 7-of-11 draws while also serving as the late-game hero on the scoresheet.

Spooner should feel good about the way he’s really pushed himself into the B’s plans even if he isn’t on the opening night roster.

“The first period I actually didn’t feel that good, but I really picked it up there in the last couple of periods,” said Spooner. “In camps before this I didn’t really play my game, and I was maybe a little nervous and hesitant. But now that I’m trying to make the team I’m just going what I’m best at, and that’s skating and making plays.”

Nobody is expecting Spooner to play in a bottom six role, and that’s a good thing because both Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell are also firmly established as Boston’s considerable strength down the middle.

Spooner hasn’t played the wing at all during the preseason, and it would appear that the Bruins coaching staff views him as a pure center. It would also appear that the Bruins have locked in their third line with wings Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith surrounding Kelly, so there’s not really an opening there for Spooner to flourish either.

Because of all that it would appear it’s going to take an injury to open up a spot for the talented youngster, but it goes beyond any roster crunch. The Bruins have always prided themselves on rewarding players that work hard, do the right things and, most importantly, perform when they’re called upon to answer the bell.

Spooner has done all of these things while clearly putting in the work over the summer to improve his strength and battle along the wall, and becoming much better at dictating the play rather than simply going along for the ride. Finding a spot for Spooner on the NHL roster would be a pretty clear message from Bruins management about rewarding players that have done everything right, and would give some shred of hope to other players in the B’s organization that are seemingly caught up in the numbers game.

Beyond the nice brand message it would send, Spooner looks like he can help the Bruins immediately. There’s every chance that the 21-year-old could tail off once the adrenaline of fighting for a roster spot has worn off, or could gather rust if he became a healthy scratch for a long portion of time.

But the Bruins can always use more offense and playmaking ability at the NHL level, and Spooner has that in big supply. It probably makes better sense from an asset management perspective to keep Jordan Caron on the NHL roster rather than risk losing him via waivers, or to keep Nick Johnson as he would provide the versatile veteran that can handle multiple assignments required from a spare forward.

But the Bruins could do an awful lot of good by making sure Spooner is in a Boston Bruins sweater when final rosters are announced for the NHL season next week, and that his NHL-level skills aren’t being wasted at the AHL level when they could be helping the Black and Gold win hockey games.