Ryan Spooner

Spooner on last season: 'I looked at my game and I wasn't happy with it'

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Spooner on last season: 'I looked at my game and I wasn't happy with it'

Ryan Spooner didn’t know what to expect this offseason, and the speedy center certainly had his doubts about whether he’d be back with the Bruins this season. The 26-year-old really struggled down the stretch last season following a concussion and was a healthy scratch for the last couple of playoffs in the first round against the Ottawa Senators.

So the former second round pick became a potential trade chip over the summer as the Bruins attempted to upgrade their defensemen corps, and the B’s signed a potential young replacement in Boston University standout Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson. Still, Spooner ended up staying with the B’s after he was protected in the NHL expansion draft and now finds himself again as the odds-on favorite to be the third line center for Boston to start the season.

Clearly the tumult and the playoff benching did some good for Spooner, however, as it spurred on some soul-searching about his own game after he realized that he’d be getting one more chance with the Bruins.

“I wasn’t sure [about the future]. I heard a lot of the media stuff that I wasn’t going to be back, but I tried not to pay attention to a lot of that. It’s hard, though, because I had a lot of my friends and family telling me what they hard, but I do feel like I’ve got something to prove now,” said Spooner. “I really took it heart at the end of the year when I didn’t play [in the playoffs]. I kind of looked at my game and I wasn’t really happy with it. There are a lot of things that I need to work on.

“The offensive side for me is always something I’ve been good at, but in terms of the face-offs and the defensive side of the game I need to be a lot better at that. That’s kind of where I’m at right now.”

Spooner worked hard over the summer to gain some much-needed size and strength and finds himself all the way up over 190 pounds – 192 pounds to be exact -- for the first time in his pro hockey career. He hopes the added weight will allow him to play stronger on the puck and be a tougher player to play against after taking a half-step back last season.

“I tried to put on five points, but I ended up putting on seven or eight…so that’s good,” said Spooner, who dropped to 11 goals and 39 points along with a minus-8 last season after posting 13 goals and 49 points the year before. “Just given how the season ended, I was also looking more at the mental side of the game for me. I just looked at the things that I need to work on. This is the year where I kind of need to work on some things, or I’m not going to be here anymore. I just want to focus on the things that I can get better at and then go from there.

“I think I can be a much harder player to play against, and if I can do that then it’s going to help me out a lot. That’s the flaw in my game that I see.”

One thing Spooner isn’t worried about with the added bulk is losing the skating speed that’s his bread and butter. He made certain to skate and keep up the conditioning while upping the calorie intake over the summer, and it should make him a speedy, stronger competitor more able to engage in the one-on-one battles necessary for success at the NHL level.

That’s something that could really add to his offensive game during 5-on-5 play where he hasn’t always been as productive as he his masterfully working the half-wall on the power play.

“I was 182 or 183 pounds [last season] and now I’m up to 192 [pounds], so hopefully that can help me out in the corners and on the compete side of things. I’ve just got to keep the cardio side of things and I’ve been doing that, so hopefully it works out for me,” said Spooner. “I did it slowly and made sure I was still skating and doing the cardio at the same time. So I’m satisfied with the [skating] speed. Sometimes it can be a bit of a concern when you’re up seven or eight points that you can get a low slower [on the ice].”

Spooner was also crystal clear he knows that this season represents his last chance with the Bruins based on the one-year deal he received as opposed to a multi-year contract. That being the case, this season should be the absolute best that Spooner has to offer knowing that his future with the Bruins, and perhaps long term in the NHL, hangs in the balance.  

Haggerty: Spooner preparing for last chance with Bruins

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Haggerty: Spooner preparing for last chance with Bruins

The Bruins and Ryan Spooner wisely came to a contract agreement on a one-year, $2.825 million deal just prior to the start of Wednesday’s arbitration hearing. Don Sweeney hasn’t yet taken a B’s player to arbitration during his three years running the Black and Gold, and it could have grown unnecessarily contentious with a player like Spooner if they’d been forced to point out his flaws as a player in the uncomfortable setting of an arbitration hearing.

“It’s a fair deal for both sides in our opinion,” said Spooner’s agent Murray Kuntz to CSN after the one-year contract had been agreed upon. 

Now that Spooner has been signed to the one-year deal, it represents the last chance for the 25-year-old to show some growth as a player if he wants to be a member of the Bruins for much. Spooner has averaged 12 goals and 44 points over the last two seasons as Boston’s third line center, and has amassed 35 PP points while serving as the trigger man on Boston’s power play from the right-side half-wall. 

But he dropped from 49 points two seasons ago to 39 points last year, and didn’t exactly flourish under the more offensive-minded coaching of Bruce Cassidy. 

Spooner is an excellent special teams player and has been one of the key ingredients in Boston finishing with the NHL’s 7th ranked power play in each of the last two seasons. But he tailed off badly late last season after suffering a concussion, and showed so much tentativeness in his overall game that he became a healthy scratch by the end of Boston’s first round playoff series against the Ottawa Senators. Spooner also continues to sit under a 40 percent success rate in the face-off circle, and shows little consistent interest in winning one-on-one battles anywhere along the ice.

The work on the draws is something, in particular, that comes down to hard work and diligence at practice, and should be an area Spooner can become at least average while practicing every day against a face-off maestro like Patrice Bergeron.  

All of this might be easier to overlook if he consistently utilized his excellent skating speed and considerable skill level to create offense during 5-on-5 play, but that hasn’t been the case enough over the last couple of seasons. A one-year deal for $2.85 gives Spooner one last opportunity to show some growth in those areas with the Bruins, and if he doesn’t then it should be fully expected the Bruins will rekindle trade discussions around Spooner. 

His situation is unmistakable: Spooner isn't going to be a top-6 center with the B's because Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are firmly entrenched at this spots, and Spooner really doesn't have the right skill set to be a fourth line center. So it's third line center or bust for Spooner as the internal competition grows around him. 

Spooner is now 25 years old and should no longer be viewed as a young player that’s still in the development phase. He should be close to a finished NHL product, and may not get demonstrably better in any area of his game if he doesn’t show it this upcoming season. He was one of the main pieces discussed when the Bruins talked trade with the Minnesota Wild prior to them dealing Marco Scandella to Buffalo, and there is clearly trade value for the former second round pick. 

But the Bruins also have a potential third line center replacement in Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson after signing him out of Boston University at the end of last season. Forsbacka Karlsson may need some AHL time to start this season after looking overmatched in his only NHL appearance late last season, but he’s the eventual two-way center replacement for Spooner in the long term. 

Forsbacka Karlsson may not be as fast or as flashy as Spooner, but he projects to be better on draws, better at winning battles and puck possession and better at being more difficult to play against while boasting his own set of offensive skills. 

It’s now up to Spooner to win that training camp competition with Forsbacka Karlsson for his current third line center position, and protect his own spot on the B’s roster by playing like his very job security depends on it. If he doesn’t show that kind of urgency and hop to his game right from the start of training camp, then it’s only a matter of time before he becomes trade fodder at a salary cap number ($2.825 million) that should be easy to move.

It’s no hyperbole to say that Spooner is entering his final chance with the Black and Gold after avoiding arbitration, and it’s wholly up to him to dictate exactly how long it lasts for.