Last season, Ryan Spooner found himself the beneficiary of David Krejci’s misfortune.
Boston’s top-line center found himself out of the lineup with a knee injury suffered in St. Louis back in late-February. The 23-year-old Spooner, who had been sent down earlier in the season due to his ineffectiveness, was called up in what may have been his last chance with the Bruins before restricted free agency came calling in the summer.
Things were much different the second time around. Spooner instantly gelled with rookie David Pastrnak as both players did everything they could to keep Boston’s offense, and playoff aspirations, above water. In 24 games, the Ottawa native scored eight goals and 18 points and seemingly made the most of a second chance brought about via Krejci’s injury.
Sure enough, general manager Don Sweeney agreed and signed Spooner to a two-year contract worth $1.9 million in the summer. Now, he has been pegged with the responsibility of leading Boston’s secondary scoring attack from the third line alongside Jimmy Hayes and rookie Frank Vatrano. After what was a slow start for Spooner, he is starting to find a groove that coincides with the Bruins recent success.
Prior to Boston’s clash with Nashville on December 7, Spooner was mired in a bit of a slump scoring just two points in his last 10 games with a minus-4 rating. Now, the second-round pick in 2010 is heating up with six points in his last five games (three goals, three assists). His recent run has Spooner’s point total at 18 (eight goals, 10 assists) through 30 games, tying a career-high that is sure to be broken before the turn of the New Year.
Patrik Stefan thought that was a really, really nice goal by Ryan Spooner there.
— Jesse Connolly (@jtchockey) December 17, 2015
The 5’11 center has done most of his damage on the man advantage for the Bruins during their recent five-game stretch (3-1-1). Spooner has two of his three goals via the power-play, including the game-winner against the Florida Panthers on Saturday as part of a two-goal performance. With his empty-net PPG on Wednesday against Pittsburgh, it takes his goal tally on the man advantage to five, good for second on the team behind Loui Eriksson’s six. It also improved the Bruins’ record to 6-1-0 this season when Spooner lights the lamp.
His nine power-play points have been a welcome addition to the Bruins prolific man-advantage this season. Along with Bergeron and Eriksson, the young center has done his part to give Boston another weapon to throw out on the second-unit.
Getting His Linemates Going
Bruins coach Claude Julien formed the Hayes-Spooner-Vatrano trio several games ago in an attempt to find some chemistry on Boston’s third line. It paid dividends on Wednesday night for the first time.
Hayes was mired in an ice-cold 15-game goal drought that spanned five weeks. In that time, the Dorchester native recorded a solitary assist and was mostly invisible. Considering his 6’8 frame, it’s pretty difficult to not notice him on the ice.
During the second period, the 26-year-old Hayes was locked up in a net-front tussle with Pens defenseman Ian Cole in the offensive zone. Spooner had the vision and lane to throw a pass at the net and, after playing Plinko for a few seconds, bounced off Hayes and trickled over the goal line. It was not the prettiest goal he’ll ever score but the Boston College product will certainly take it. Parking a big body in front of the net is sure to generate some more offense with Spooner handling the puck and Hayes driving the net.
As for Vatrano, the native of Western Massachusetts has not been afraid to shoot the puck during his 16-game stay in Boston. The 21-year-old winger averages just over four shot attempts per game and has two goals to show for it so far. Playing with a offensively-gifted center in Spooner will open the door for Vatrano to grip it and rip it more often than not. However, that connection is still a work in progress as the UMass product has not scored since Thanksgiving Eve in Detroit.
Defensive Zone Adventures
One thing Spooner and his line will have to improve on is their work in the defensive zone. Julien cannot be particularly pleased when the third line gets hemmed in their own zone on occasion and makes an adventure out of trying to clear their lines. Considering that Hayes (56.1), Spooner (58) and Vatrano (61.4) are in the team’s top-seven for a percentage of shifts starting in the offensive zone, their Corsi-For percentages (48.7, 46 and 49.4, respectively) leave much to be desired.
Furthermore, Spooner’s struggles in the faceoff dot are becoming a problem. He is the Bruins worst natural center in the faceoff circle with a subpar 40.8 win percentage, emerging victorious on just 80 of his 196 draws this season. It’s not a recipe for success when losing a faceoff and having to chase the puck around for a majority of your shift, which offers a reasonable explanation as to why Spooner’s possession statistics fall in the class of “needs improvement”.
Nevertheless, his offensive upside is too much to ignore and has the Bruins optimistic in their ability to get secondary scoring from their third line. Spooner’s recent form offers a glimpse of what he can bring to the table. The only question remains whether he and his linemates can find the consistency needed to give Boston one of the deepest offensive attacks in the League.
Joe is a writer covering the Boston Bruins. He is a lifelong native of Massachusetts and is currently a content writer/manager for a newsletter at a Human Services Agency. Joe can be found on Twitter: @JoeCherryTHW