Spooner determined to play way Bruins want

Spooner determined to play way Bruins want

BOSTON -- Ryan Spooner had an inkling going into Bruins training camp that this season was going to be a challenge.

The Bruins were planning to move the 24-year-old from his natural center position, and instead install him on the left wing with David Krejci and David Backes on a forward line featuring three natural centers all at once. He was also coming off a 13-goal, 49-point season that saw him establish himself as an NHL caliber center with even greater offensive upside based on his blazing skating speed, and ability to create offense, particularly on the power play.

So the expectations were elevated for Spooner in his second full NHL season, and they would be there even while playing the wing position for the first extended time in his professional career. That would be a demanding spot for anybody and Spooner has been just okay thus far: three goals and eight points along with a minus-2 rating in 21 games for the Bruins.

He’s also been relegated to the fourth line for the last few games, and at times even been taken off the power play despite it clearly serving as one of his specialties. When asked about those moves, Claude Julien would either glibly chalk it up to general “coaching”, or simply turn questions about Spooner’s status back toward the player for his own explanation.

Clearly the Bruins have tried to get Spooner to adopt some of the same playing style improvements that have worked so well for 20-year-old David Pastrnak this season, but he’s been slower to fully embrace the puck battles and necessary board work. There are moments when it’s all happening for Spooner, and there are still times when he fades to the background with a passive style to his game.

Knowing all that, it was a good sign on Sunday afternoon when Spooner won a key battle along the side boards that eventually led to Dominic Moore’s opening goal in the 4-1 win over the Lightning. It was exactly what the Bruins want to see more out of with Spooner, and it’s something he’s still trying to drag out of himself.  

It’s also no coincidence that he found good skating legs in that game as well, and was noticeable despite limited ice time on the fourth line with Moore and Jimmy Hayes.

“I felt a lot better than I have in the past. I was playing a little bit, I guess, timid and kind of afraid [to start this season], but I’m 24 now. So I just got to go out there and I just have to play, and that’s what I’m going to do,” said Spooner. “I have been taken off the power play [at times]. I think that’s kind of a message to me that if I’m not playing how they want me to, then they are going to take that away from me.

“So at the end of the day, I think the power play is something that I do well and I think I can help out. I just have to go out there and I have to play, use my speed and my skill. That’s what I have been trying to do.”

It hasn’t been an awful start by any means for Spooner, who is on pace for 12 goals and 31 points and has managed to pump in a pair of power play goals already this season. It just hasn’t been all that it can be, and that part is up to the player.

Clearly there are other players with bigger names and bigger paychecks, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci to name a couple, that have underachieved offensively for the Black and Gold as well. But most of those other players help the Bruins in different areas aside from pure offensive production, and those are parts of the game that Spooner hasn’t mastered despite working on his face-offs, trying to play stronger on the wall and simply attempting to survive defensively at a left wing position that asks for size and strength defensively.

What the Bruins wanted to see out of Spooner more than anything else was an aggressive, determined mindset, and a willingness to push the pace with speed and assertiveness that could exert pressure on the opposing team’s defense. Spooner did some of that with an assist and a plus-2 rating in 10:38 of ice time in the win over Tampa, but it merely registers as one game moving into the right direction for a player entering some organizational crossroads.

If he can provide the speed and playmaking natural to his skills then he might remain a member of the Bruins for the foreseeable future, and that would certainly serve Spooner just fine as he’s grown comfortable in Boston.

But more development detours in his still-maturing game could lead to a new start elsewhere, and a chance to establish his skill set with a different group. Spooner holds value around the league given his promise and skating game combined with last season’s production, and there’s little debate over that simple hockey fact.

One has to wonder about those possibilities if he continues to be an ill-fitting piece for Claude Julien’s system: would Spooner be one of the main pieces for a top-4 D-man Boston has searched far and wide for over the last couple of seasons, and is it inevitably trending toward an exit with things making the way like perpetual fourth line demotions and an organizational unwillingness to keep him at his preferred center position?

One thing is for certain: Spooner has the kind of tools that aren’t exactly plentiful in the Bruins organization, and he could come back to burn the Spoked B’s, like so many other offensively gifted players, if management makes too hasty a decision with him after placing him in a challenging spot during his second full NHL season. 

Morning Skate: Former PC coach Army on Avs' rough year

Morning Skate: Former PC coach Army on Avs' rough year

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Star Wars being released today. Amazing that the power and influence of the best movie franchise in cinematic history are just as strong today as it was four decades ago. I still remember my first time seeing it as a very little kid with my parents at the dearly departed Starlight Drive-In in North Reading.

*Good guy and recently fired Colorado Avalanche assistant coach Tim Army talks about a rough past season with the Avs, and some of the difficulties they faced in a truly terrible season. The former Providence College head coach and good hockey man shouldn’t have much trouble finding his next gig.

*A great move by the Arizona Coyotes, who have hired former Bruins forward Craig Cunningham as a pro scout after his awful medical situation last season that resulted in his leg getting amputated. Cunningham is a hard worker and a hockey lifer, and that’s exactly the kind of traits that the best scouts have in huge amounts.

*The New Jersey Devils have fired a number of employees after a rough season, including a groundbreaking radio analyst.

*With the ultra-competitive demand for an edge in NHL player development, teams are beginning to look to Europe for more and more diamonds in the rough. The Bruins tried that with Joonas Kemppainen, but it didn’t work out so well.

*One of the real big advantages of the Nashville Predators getting to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time is a national spotlight getting flashed on PK Subban, who shows off his personality in a rare ESPN interview of a hockey player featured on the network's magazine show.

*Ryan Johansen isn’t done talking smack to Ryan Kesler after the Predators prevailed over the Ducks, and it’s some delicious playoff hatred.

*Is the NHL ready to draft another goaltender with the last name DiPietro in the first round? Inquiring minds want to know, but I’d recommend the New York Islanders take a pass just in the name of avoiding a repeat of some bad history for them.

*Taylor Hall sounds pretty bitter about the whole “Edmonton Oilers getting into the playoff without him” thing, doesn’t he?

*For something completely different: As mentioned above, it’s a milestone birthday for the Star Wars franchise hitting 40 years old today. Boy, this Boston Globe movie review was right on the money back in 1977.