Boston Bruins

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. 

Brad Marchand: NHL’s new face-off crackdown ‘an absolute joke’

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Brad Marchand: NHL’s new face-off crackdown ‘an absolute joke’

BRIGHTON, Mass – Count Brad Marchand among those NHL players that don’t like how closely officials are calling face-off violations so far this preseason.

The NHL is cracking down on run-of-the-mill slashing penalties to the arms and hands and calling an excessive number of penalties for forwards “cheating” in the face-off circle prior to the drop of the puck. 

This essentially means the opposing centers taking the face-off can’t be standing or have their sticks on the painted hash marks and instead must stand perfectly still while waiting for the puck to drop. Two consecutive violations of Section 10 of the rulebook will result in a two-minute delay of game: face-off violation penalty. It was called on numerous occasions for the first eight NHL preseason games played on Monday night.

Needless to say, Marchand was watching some games on Monday night while not playing in the first two preseason games for the Bruins and he called the stricter interpretation of the rulebook “an absolute joke.”

“The slashing [penalties] is one thing, but this face-off rule is an absolute joke. That’s how you ruin the game of hockey by putting that in there. They’re going to have to do something about that because we can’t play all year like that,” said Marchand. “Basically you have to be a statue. You can’t move. It takes away from the center iceman. I think there was even a play [in the game I was watching] last night where a penalty was called on a 4-on-4 before play on the first penalty had even started because of a draw.

“That’s just a joke. I don’t know how you expect guys to step back, guys are excited to get in there and help out there centerman. I know they’re trying to add a little more offense to the game [with power plays] and make it more exciting, but you don’t want to ruin the game. It’s frustrating for everyone. There are ways to make the game better, but this isn’t one of them. We might as well start throwing D-men in there to take draws.”

Marchand did acknowledge that sometimes on-ice officials put an extra emphasis on making a slew of calls in preseason to let players get used to any new enforcement of rules like for face-offs and slashing calls. Perhaps that’s what is going on here. That may be the case in the face-off circle, but it sounds like Marchand is going to be one unhappy camper if the more stringent face-off rules interpretation creeps into the regular season. 


 

DeBrusk excited ‘to get his look tonight’ with Krejci, Pastrnak

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DeBrusk excited ‘to get his look tonight’ with Krejci, Pastrnak

BRIGHTON, Mass – After watching fellow Bruins prospects Anders Bjork and Jesse Gabrielle score in the preseason opener vs. the Canadiens on Monday night, Jake DeBrusk knows the bar has been set for him as he readies to take the ice against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

It will be the first preseason game for DeBrusk this fall and it his first in a top-six spot at left wing alongside David Krejci and David Pastrnak.

DeBrusk, 20, has worked with Krejci exclusively the first five days of camp and Pastrnak was added to that duo as soon as he signed and reported to Boston last weekend. It’s clear the Bruins are giving the former first-round pick a big audition with Krejci and Pastrnak, and DeBrusk is excited to show what he can do.

“I’m feeling good, excited to put on the jersey again and play at the Garden,” said DeBrusk. “We see each other every day, and we know how good we all are. I saw a couple of [young] guys get on the board last night with a big comeback win. So they kind of set the tone and we’re expecting the same result for sure. I just want to show that I can stay there, that I can play on that line and that I belong in that [top-six] area.”

DeBrusk hasn’t quite immediately taken off the way Bjork has in the first week of camp, but he’s been steadily trying to improve chemistry with Krejci and Pastrnak as the practice days have unfolded. Clearly, there is skill there with DeBrusk after 19 goals and 49 points in 70 games with the P-Bruins as a first-year pro, but there’s still some question as to whether he’s a no-doubt top-six winger or more of a third line type who can play higher in the lineup.

“[We want to see him] get pucks off the wall to Krejci,” Bruce Cassidy said. “Krejci is great coming out of our end with speed and leading the attack. That’s one of his strengths. We look for [DeBrusk] to be on top of pucks and create turnovers much like [Pastrnak] does on fore-check in the neutral zone. He does have good foot speed and a good stick. We’re looking for him to finish plays. Obviously, the guy on the right side, Pasta, has made a name for himself doing that, so not all of the pressure is on Jake to do that.

“We just want him to pitch, and when there are plays there to be finished we want him to be able to do that. Then obviously he’s got to do it on a consistent basis, but he’ll get his look tonight. He’s been on that line for three or four days, so let’s see what he’s got.”

Certainly, the intensity has been there for DeBrusk while also showing a little frustration when plays haven’t been made with Krejci in practice. Now, he’s looking forward to getting a chance in a preseason game where playmaking chemistry either materializes or it doesn’t.

“It goes hand-in-hand that you want to have games with them as well as practices,” said DeBrusk. “I think every day it’s been getting better, so just looking forward to some game action with them. I’m just going to work hard, play my game, stick to my game and hopefully contribute.”

If DeBrusk does all of that, much like his fellow young prospects did on Monday night in Quebec City, then he should be just fine in his first really big audition with the Black and Gold.