MARLBOROUGH Bruins fans got their first look at top forward prospects Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner on Wednesday nights preseason opener at the New England Sports Center, and the dynamic duo didnt disappoint.
Both 2010 second round picks were held off the scoreboard, but both Spooner and Knight were considerable factors in Providences 4-1 thrashing of the Springfield Falcons. Spooner showed off his speed and puck-handling skills throughout the game, and thats something the gifted center has had throughout his short career in the Bs organization. Its easy to spot his Krejci-like ability to slow the game down, and create offensive plays with a sound hockey mind and a good pair of hands.
Playing summer hockey you just float around a little bit, but its eye-opening when youre going into the corner and taking contact again for the first time in a while. It felt good to be playing games again, said Spooner. Its motivation when you know youre being watched by the front office and coaching staff. You want to play well, and the biggest thing for me is to show consistency.
Everybody could get sidetracked by the lockout if they wanted to, but Im not dwelling on any of the negatives. Im just going to take the chance Ive been given down here and Ill run with it.
In the second period Spooner fed Jamie Tardif with a nifty cross-ice pass that the P-Bruins forward couldnt convert on, but it looked like any preseason butterflies were gone by that point.
Knight, on the other hand, showed plenty at both ends of the ice in spurts of activity. Knight managed only one shot in the game, but his smothering forecheck helped set up Providences first goal.
Knight also smoked a shot off the crossbar in the second period after a flashy backhand-to-forehand move set up the scoring chance.
Even more impressive than the scoring chance, which Knight will have to bury with regularity if he wants a job in the NHL, was his commitment to defense.
Theres little doubt that Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli along with assistant GMs Don Sweeney and Jim Benning and assistant coach Doug Jarvis all noticed Knight hustle back into defensive position. Then Knight dropped to one knee high in the slot area and blocked a shot headed toward the net.
The willingness to block shots early and often is part of a renewed effort by the young Bs winger to pay attention to the little details on the ice. The goal is pretty simple: to become a factor on the ice even when his shot isnt finding holes.
Its something I got away from a little bit a couple years ago while I was playing in London, so its something I really reconnected with last year, said Knight. You want to show that youre serious and committed to sacrificing your body to help the team. Ill block pucks with my face if I think its going to help us win.
While thats probably not something Chiarelli wants to see, it says something that Knight showing the willingness and grit to throw his body in front of the puck during a preseason game where hes essentially guaranteed a spot on the roster. But perhaps just as impressive is the fact that he didnt allow himself to get fazed by ringing the post at the offensive end of the ice.
Too often younger players can dwell on something bad that happened at the offensive end of the ice, and allow it turn into a scoring chance in their own zone. The Bs youngster didnt let that happen, and thats something his coach noticed after Knight had been relatively quiet in both intra-squad scrimmages over the weekend.
I liked Knight tonight. In the scrimmages I thought he was just okay', but I thought he attacked well off his off wide. Thats an NHL-type play when you beat a guy wide, use your body to create separation and then go backhand-to-forehand off the bar, said Bruce Cassidy. Thats the kind of play hell have to make when hes playing in Boston, and it was good to see that.
Defensively I thought he was fine: gets in shooting lines and has a good stick. He played for Dale Hunter with the London Knights so thats to be expected. Its obvious that hes learned well. Its what youve got to do these days and thats something Claude Julien will expect if hes playing in Boston. So thats what we have to expect down here in the AHL as well.
Its a good sign when the P-Bruins were able to win so convincingly when arguably their two most offensively skilled forwards were kept off the scoresheet, but that wont happen too many times this season. They didnt score in their first time out, but its already clear that Spooner and Knight belong in the professional hockey ranks with nowhere to go but up.