WILMINGTON – Thursday night was an instructive lesson in the learning curve of talented youngster Ryan Spooner.
The Bruins coaching staff saw both the good and the bad in the 20-year-old prospect that continues to create at least one or two offensive plays in every game that make you shake your head in amazement. In the overtime win against the Nashville Predators, Spooner embarked on a sprinter’s dash up the left wing after sidestepping a Viktor Stalberg hit in the defensive zone, and set up Boston’s first goal.
It was a key moment where Spooner recognized the open ice available to him once Nashville’s “third man high” missed after trying to take him out.
“I think on that [goal] their third guy just kind of got caught in the middle, and he was along the wall that was coming down on me,” said Spooner. “I think the first two periods they were doing a good job at getting over top of us.
“But I think in the third period a couple times their third guy was kind of lost in the middle. We seemed to take advantage of it.”
He turned on the jets while keeping an eye on a wide open Johnny Boychuk in the slot, and the B’s defenseman buried a shot under the crossbar after Spooner served him a perfect pass from the left wing. It was the kind of eye-popping, stunning speed and playmaking play that very few skaters on the B’s have the talent to pull off.
“He’s been playing with [speed and puck-handling] since he’s gotten here. He’s a very fast and skilled player, and he sees the ice well,” said Boychuk. “In the third period we had to make sure to jump up in the rush when we had the chance. We did that, and it created a couple scoring chances for us and it helped out with our game.”
In the previous period, Spooner also set up Matt Fraser for a couple of golden scoring chances after a slick pass to himself off the boards before dropping the dish back to Fraser waiting in the slot.
Unfortunately Fraser teed off high and wide with the shot, but it was a bona fide scoring chance created by Spooner’s speed.
Spooner now has nine assists in 13 games on 13:08 of ice time per game, and has piled up five power play points in a very short time while finding his offensive range.
But there’s also a downside to the offensive creativity.
Spooner was also caught watching the puck in the second period on an admittedly sloppy Bruins line change that led to a Stalberg goal. While Brad Marchand didn’t do a great job getting the puck deep in the corner while the team changed, and the Niklas Svedberg rebound of a Mike Fisher shot did bounce right onto Stalberg’s stick.
But Spooner stood around and watched rather than guarding the slot area from Stalberg, or helping to sweep the rebound away after watching Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug struggle to recover from the problematic line change.
It’s a balance between dazzling offense and adequate defense the Bruins coaching staff continues to preach with Spooner, as his confidence rightfully skyrockets with each goal he helps to produce.
“[The offense] is what he’s known for. We analyze the game a little bit more than that – when you look at that first goal…that’s where you have to understand that he still has a lot to learn,” said Claude Julien.
“We’re not going to crucify him for doing something like that, but the thing is he’s got to keep working on his game.
“At this level every goal means a lot. But his speed, and his skill level, and we’ve got him on the power play. You know he’s a good playmaker, and that’s why he’s still here, and why we like him.”
Spooner is a minus-2 through those 13 games and is still in search of his first NHL goal, so there are certainly things to work on for a gifted offensive player that needs to continue improving his face-offs and D-zone work. But the masterful power play orchestration from the half-wall keyed by his soft hands and the instead offense created by his blazing skating speed go a long way toward trumping the odd mistake in the defensive zone.
As long as Spooner is working hard and improving the areas of the game that don’t come naturally to him, it would appear the 21-year-old has a bright and brilliant future with the Bruins organization.