The Spooner Shuffle

Ryan Spooner’s interesting start to the 2016-17 season continued on Monday at practice. The Bruins hosted the session at their new Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton and Caryn Switaj filled us in on a few story lines.

One thing we learned in her report is Spooner was back to practicing at center. He was running drills with Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes on the wings to make up the new third forward line.

At this point in the season, Claude Julien still seems to be unsure of exactly where to place Spooner in the Bruins’ lineup. We were hoping that Spooner would have solidified his spot by now, but that has not happened quite yet. This is not the first time he has been moved this year and it may not be the last.

Start of the Shuffle

(Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)
(Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

At the start of training camp this season, it became evident that the Bruins were going to have a lot of centers to choose from. There were seven quality centermen on the roster, including Spooner. There was no doubt that David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron would be slotting into two of the four center spots.

That left Spooner competing with David Backes, Dominic Moore, Riley Nash, and Noel Acciari for the other spots up the middle.

Before camp began, Julien noted that Spooner would be playing center, but the option of moving Spooner to the wing was in the back of his mind. In September, Mike Loftus of The Patriot Ledger reported Spooner’s thoughts on the matter:

“I’d prefer to play in the middle of the ice. It’s just where I’ve always played. But if they want to play me on the wing, and think that’s where I’m going to be best, then that’s where I’m going to have to play.”

Winging It

Despite starting camp at center, Spooner was moved to the left wing for the season opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Although the wing is not his ideal position, he was placed on the second line with David Krejci and rookie Danton Heinen for the first three games.

In the first game against the Blue Jackets, Spooner was able to register an assist on David Pastrnak’s empty net goal in the third period. However, Spooner and his linemates struggled to get any momentum going.

The performance was chalked up to Spooner being at a new position, Krejci still recovering from offseason surgery, and Heinen being in his first NHL game. All valid reasons for a rough outing.

There was hope the group would be able to pull it together in the next few games. Unfortunately, we saw more of the same from their line against Toronto and Winnipeg and Spooner seemed almost non-existent. Spooner’s struggles were highlighted by his ice time being cut from roughly 17:30 in the first two games, to just 10:44 in the third game against the Jets.

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Press Box View

Bergeron sat out the first three contests of the season due to a minor injury, but he returned for the Bruins home opener against the New Jersey Devils. The return of Bergeron led to Spooner being placed in the press box as a healthy scratch. Taking Spooner out of the lineup came as a surprise, but it sent a clear message that he was not playing well enough.

The message was received loud and clear because Spooner came out flying in his next game against the Montreal Canadiens. Still playing the wing, he ended up skating with Krejci and Backes most of the night. Although the Bruins came up short, Spooner was able to tally his first goal of the year on a gorgeous feed from Backes.

Back to the Middle

The third line for the Bruins has not produced well at all. The lack of production is a problem since the Bruins tend to rely heavily on a big third line presence. To create this third line offense, Spooner has been moved back to center.

(Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

Spooner has more than enough talent to produce offense in the NHL, so hopefully the change gets this line moving. I would be very surprised if Spooner does not play well on Tuesday. He is finally getting his shot in the middle again, and I doubt he wants to waste it.

The slow start is cause for some low-level concern in Boston, but it is definitely too early to be hitting the panic button on Spooner. Either way, Bruins’ fans want to see Spooner start producing more points and being placed back in the middle gives him the best chance to do so.