For Boston Bruins prospect Ryan Spooner, opportunity knocked at the right time.
The 23-year-old center was called up by Boston on February 20 after top-line playmaker David Krejci went down with what turned out to be a partial MCL tear in his knee. After making the opening night roster only to be sent to the minors a week later, Spooner relished a fresh opportunity to stick with the parent club. After three weeks back, he is emerging as a critical part of Boston’s postseason push.
Back in September, Spooner played in a preseason tilt against the Montreal Canadiens looking to secure a roster spot. The young center scored the first goal of the night but made a costly defensive miscue, allowing Montreal to score the game-winning goal. Bruins coach Claude Julien made it clear after the game that Spooner had some work to do in his own end.
“…it was nice to see him score, but if you watched the game he’s still a liability defensively. It’s exciting to see a guy do great offensively…but if you score a goal and give up two, then you’re not really helping your team.”
He spent five games with Boston before being sent down to Providence. Although he posted 10 points in 14 November matchups for the Baby B’s, Spooner finished the month with a -8 rating. December and January were not much better as he scored four points from nine games with a -2.
Nine points in seven games and a +2 rating in February along with improving his game away from the puck, was enough to convince the Bruins brass that Spooner was ready to return. He did what was asked of him back in September, but could he translate his improvement to the NHL?
The Bruins called up Spooner for the final game of what had been a winless road-trip for the club. He recorded an assist on the game-winning goal that afternoon while logging 15:53 of ice time in a 6-2 victory for the Bruins. The win snapped Boston’s six-game losing streak.
Two weeks ago against the New Jersey Devils, in his 35th game, Spooner scored his first NHL goal. It proved to be the game-winner in overtime, earning Boston the crucial extra point in the Eastern Conference playoff race. It was a moment that Spooner, the Bruins, and their fans will not soon forget.
“Spoons” has a six-game point streak going, scoring three goals and four assists. Tuesday night’s 3-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators saw the native of Canada’s capital score twice in a crucial game as the Sens are chasing Boston for the final playoff spot in the East. His power-play goal early in the second started the scoring while his goal late in the period effectively shut the door on Ottawa’s chances of victory.
“We’re seeing him really turn the corner, and that’s what young players do,” Julien said after the game. “Right now he’s probably the best we’ve seen him.”
For Julien, it is no longer a debate on whether Spooner will play. The focus has now shifted to figuring out where he will play when Krejci recovers from his knee injury. The chemistry between Spooner, Milan Lucic, and David Pastrnak is growing by the day. Lucic (six points in last eight games) and Pastrnak (seven points in last eight games) are reaping the benefits playing alongside Boston’s number 51.
How are you not going to figure out a way to keep Ryan Spooner on this team if you're the Bruins? He and Pastrnak showing real chemistry
— Kirk Luedeke (@kluedeke29) March 6, 2015
Spooner is an up-tempo player that forces the normally slow Lucic to keep up with his two quicker linemates. In contrast, Krejci is a more methodical player who is patient on the puck and slows the game down to make plays. It would not be a surprise if Julien inserted his number 46 back on the top line when healthy, but the last several games have Bruins fans thinking the trio should stay together for the foreseeable future.
The one knock on Spooner is that he is still a defensive liability. His 47.3 percent Corsi rating at five-on-five illustrates that when he is on the ice, opposing teams control the puck more often,thereby generating more scoring chances than his line. The Lucic-Spooner-Pastrnak line has often struggled in defensive situations which is a major concern for Julien.
Given his defensive issues, it is not a shock that Spooner has started a majority of his shifts (57.3 percent) in the offensive end of the ice this season. Spooner’s performance at the dot is another area that needs improvement. He has won only 43.7 percent of his faceoffs this season.
Regardless of his imperfections, Julien has put Ryan Spooner in a position to succeed with the club. The 45th overall pick in 2010 has responded, contributing to Boston’s 6-1-1 record by scoring eight points since his call-up three weeks ago.
He is a budding offensive prospect that the Bruins will be keen to keep around as their march towards the postseason continues.
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