Spooner opening B's eyes with breakout camp

Spooner opening B's eyes with breakout camp
September 23, 2013, 9:30 am
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It’s certainly a fine time for Ryan Spooner to decide to have the best training camp of his career in the Boston Bruins organization.

A young Spooner also had a good camp while still a junior player in the OHL when he was one of the final cuts by Claude Julien, but that was years ago. Now the 21-year-old Spooner is a maturing player with an NHL burst in his skating speed, a keen hockey IQ when it comes to creating plays and enough physical strength to battle for pucks and position on the ice. He arrived at Bruins training camp knowing that the Bruins are well-stocked up the middle with four centers in David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell, and Carl Soderberg for good measure as a natural center in his native Sweden.

“If they want to use me at wing, I’ve played there before. I think I’m smart enough to be able to play there,” said Spooner. “Obviously I’ve played center all my life, but hockey players with skill can adapt to just about any position they’re put into. If they wanted me to do that then I think I could handle it.

“But if they want me to stay at center then I’ll do everything they ask. I’ll just try to make the most of it. If that means going back to play in Providence then I’ll obviously be a little bit upset because I feel like I’ve had a good camp so far.”

Spooner is also a speed, playmaking natural center blocked by a whole heap of veteran NHL talent up the middle, but it hasn’t stopped the pivot from looking very ready in three preseason games. He put up 17 goals and 57 points in 59 AHL games in his first pro season last year, and it looks like that experience has helped elevate his game to the next level.

“This is my first year here where they’ve had all the center spots locked up. So my goal is to come in here and make a good impression, and if I get sent down make sure that I’m the first guy that gets called up,” said Spooner. “I think this is the first I haven’t really felt nervous on the ice, and when that happens I’m able to really use my speed a little bit more.

“I think I’ve played pretty well. I’ve had some scoring chances and played pretty well. I just want to play my game, and not be hesitant with the puck. That’s when you get into trouble with things: when you sit back and not try to make mistakes. I’m going to make mistakes, but I need to go out there and do what I’m best at.”

The center has a pair of assists in three games, but the numbers only tell part of the story for the B’s prospect. He’s looked like he’s playing with a Nintendo turbo boost while others are simply skating at normal speed, and he’s created offensive chances while skating with an array of linemates. It was a mature play on Saturday night in Detroit where Spooner drew a holding penalty by driving the puck straight to the net with speed and enough power to get it to the cage.

In fact he drew a pair of penalties against the Wings in addition to the three shots on net, and was making things happen all over the ice.

There are areas of his game that need work, of course. He’s been dominated in the face-off circle from the center spot in each of the three games, and the Bruins need to see more of No. 51 to make certain he can consistently play at his current level.

That’s why the Bruins will put him back in the lineup once again on Monday night in a home game against the Washington Capitals. The Bruins want to see more of their top forward prospect, and make certain of what they have before it potentially affects other players vying for the roster.

“The one area Ryan has had to improve is his involvement in those areas where you’ve got to battle for pucks – getting in there and battling. Or if he doesn’t have it, the pursuit [of the puck] and everything else,” said Julien. “We’ve really stayed on top of him as far as that’s concerned, to help him through, because everything else is there.

“We talked about his speed, his skating ability, his play-making abilities; he’s got all those tools to play in this league. There’s a part of his game that needs to improve, and that’s what’s made him a better player in the last three or so games. You’re starting to see that kind of stuff. It’s important for him to continue to do those things. You’re seeing a different player, because that part of the game is being added to the qualities he already had.”

Clearly Spooner knows he still has nuances he must master to excel at the NHL level, but the increased battle level is a direct result of the messages he’s received from the Bruins coaching staff. It’s nothing but a positive that he’s taken the constructive criticism, processed it and applied it to make him an improved player.

“[Working along the boards] is definitely something I’m working on right now. It’s something I’ve been improving at, and something they’ve been all over me about for the past two or three years,” said Spooner. “I just want to do what they want me to do, and do the best I can at it.

“Being here and the whole learning experience [at training camp] has been good for me too. I just want to be positive and not get too down on myself because I’ve done everything that I can do.”

Spooner also said he’d be more than willing to move to the wing if that would help him crack the B’s opening night roster. It’s a tantalizing hypothetical situation for the Bruins coaching staff given what he’s shown over the last few weeks, but Julien voiced some hesitation at moving him from his natural center position.

“I don’t know that Ryan [Spooner] is . . . you know some guys say ‘oh, he can play on the wing,’, [but] I really think he’s better suited in the middle, his style of game, but I know why you’re [asking the question],” said Julien. “He has had a really good camp, and obviously the last three games, in my mind anyway, have been really good.

“Don’t be surprised that we have to make a tough decision down the road. That tough decision doesn’t necessarily mean sending him down, it could be something else. We certainly haven’t written that off because he’s played that well. The thing with Ryan now is the ability to sustain that kind of a game. That’s what he’s got to continue to show.”

Spooner has four remaining exhibition games over the next week to continue putting on the show that’s been ongoing during training camp.

So far it’s opened to rave reviews from the B’s coaching staff and talent evaluators as they carve out the list of 22 players that will start the year in Boston.