WILMINGTON Ryan Spooner was probably the most baby-faced Bruins prospect when he first showed up at the Bruins Development Camp two years ago with Tyler Seguin and Jared Knight, among others.
He looked about 14 years old off the ice. But on it, he dazzled with a skill set and offensive game that allowed him to stick around in training camp until the very last few roster cuts.
Fast forward to today.
Spooner, now 20, still has the baby face, albeit with a touch more facial hair. He's also worked hard to add some muscle to the 182 pounds on his 5-foor-10 frame.
At least hes starting to get a little peach fuzz on his face, said Providence Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. Hes starting to look like a little bit of a man now, so thats the biggest things I noticed about Spoons."
But one thing that remains the same: He still possesses a playmakers creativity and the natural ability to score. Just ask first-round pick Malcolm Subban, whom Spooner has put into the torture chamber of double and triple moves when during penalty-shot drills.
I guess Id have to say Spooner, said a smiling Subban after long moments of hemming and hawing about the toughest shooter hes faced this week. But thats only because he tries so badly to score on me every single time.
That kind of competitiveness in a relatively meaningless prospect camp is music to the ears of the Bruins.
Spooner will be in a group of players battling for the third-line winger position in training camp this fall, along with Knight, Jordan Caron, Chris Bourque and any veterans that general manager Peter Chiarelli brings in between now and September. Spooner might have the longest odds, but thats not a bad thing given the lessons he still needs to master with the Providence Bruins.
Hes already learned one, painfully: Find a safer, smarter way to battle with players who are much bigger and stronger. In a game in Providence last year, he went into the corner battling with a 6-foot-6 defenseman for the puck and got lifted up and tossed into the boards like a ragdoll.
I still have tons of work to do, said Spooner. I have to get much stronger. There are things I definitely still have to work on, said Spooner. I have to be patient. I hope one day to be in the National Hockey League, but I also need to pay attention to the little things that will get me there.
Skill-wise I think I can keep up with NHL players, but the little things and strength-wise adjusting to that kind of game might take some time. Everybody wants to be in the NHL right away, but when youre playing in a great organization like the Bruins, sometimes it takes a little longer.
Still, Spooner has been close to a point-per-game player during his limited time in the AHL and has the kind of offensive playmaking instincts the Bruins desperately need, both five-on-five and on their power-play unit. He needs to master playing away from the puck and tightening things up in the defensive zone, but he might have the highest upside of any forward at this years development camp.
It would be between Spooner and Russian prospect Alex Khokhlachev for those honors, and the young centers passing ability might be what puts him over the top.
Hes very creative, said Cassidy, who ran the development camp practices on the ice this week. He makes some no-look passes that some of the other players on our club just dont have the ability to make; its one of his best gifts.
"The difference I noticed from last spring to the previous one" -- Spooner played three games for the P-Bruins at the end of the 2010-11 season, and five games there last year -- "was his attention to detail. Away from the puck, hes starting to become more of a student of the game.
A year older, he wants to know the position where he needs to be, to have a good stick, and the things that hes going to need to do when the offense dries up in spurts. I noticed that difference about him. He also shoots the puck better than he did the year before.
It sounds like Spooner has his priorities straight as he heads into his first full pro season of hockey, and he has the natural ability to push for a role with the Bruins in the near future.
The marriage of the two should bring Spooner to the NHL level sooner rather than later as his dominating development camp performance shows just how ready he is to graduate to the next level.