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: Tempered expectations for Bolts' rookie Sergachev

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Morning Skate: Tempered expectations for Bolts' rookie Sergachev

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while simply shaking my head at David Price. What a typically soft, boorish ballplayer not meant for a big market where more is expected of those wearing the Red Sox uniform.

*There are tempered expectations for rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev as he gets things going with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

*Keith Yandle believes that Dale Tallon being back in charge of the Florida Panthers is going to bring unity and solidarity to the Panthers once again.

*Kevin Shattenkirk believes that the New York Rangers are right on the cusp of challenging for a Stanley Cup title.

*Here 20 thoughts from the just-concluded Chicago Blackhawks prospect camp, where there’s some pretty strong, young talent.

*Even as the highest-paid player in the NHL, Connor McDavid is underpaid for what he brings to the table, says Ron MacLean.

*Interesting look at the Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog situation in Colorado, where both players have watched their performance fall off a bit. This is why I’d be very nervous about giving up the farm to trade for either of these players if I’m the Bruins. The jury is out on whether they’re in decline as players, or if it’s simply the mess in Colorado getting them down.  

*For something completely different: What a sweet interaction between "Wonder Woman" Gal Gadot and a young, emotional fan all decked out in WW gear.  

 

Spooner, Bruins nearly $2 million apart in arbitration figures

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Spooner, Bruins nearly $2 million apart in arbitration figures

The figures and briefs are in for the Bruins and Ryan Spooner for their arbitration hearing Wednesday, but both sides are still hoping that a deal can be reached prior to it. The Bruins have submitted a one-year contract offer for $2 million. Spooner’s camp countered with $3.85 million, creating a sizeable gap of almost $2 million between the two.

Spooner, 25, has averaged 12 goals and 44 points the past two seasons with the B’s, including 35 power-play points while working the half-wall for a Boston PP that’s been ranked seventh overall two seasons in a row.

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Spooner is coming off a two-year contract worth $1.95 million and his is a complicated situation for the Black and Gold. Spooner holds significant value as a trade piece and has been an important part of a very effective power play, but he also finished the playoffs as a healthy scratch after going quietly the past few months of the season.

Spooner was one of the major pieces discussed in trade talks with the Minnesota Wild around the draft prior to the Wild shipping Marco Scandella to the Buffalo Sabres and he's been involved in trade discussions with several teams the past couple of years.

The Bruins have prospect Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson waiting in the wings if/when the B’s decided to spin Spooner to another team, but they also enjoy his speed and playmaking when he’s on his game. There’s clearly a scenario where the Bruins start the season with Spooner installed as their third-line center and perhaps explore more trade discussions while seeing if a full season under Bruce Cassidy can unlock his significant offensive potential.

If that's still in the plan, they’d be wise to come to an agreement and avoid the hearing Wednesday where they’d ostensibly be bad-mouthing a player they’d want back on their team. The Bruins have the right to walk away from Spooner should he be awarded the full $3.85 million by the arbiter. Still, it’s hard to believe they’d do that given that he’s a homegrown asset with trade value.

The feeling at this address is that there’s a deal to be made between the two sides for something around the $3 million mark. That’s something that would be worthwhile for the Bruins if they have any designs on continuing on with Spooner.