Hockey

NHL: The rise of Ryan Spooner

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

“Too small, lacks physicality, isn’t gritty enough”. Those were the words that many spoke of Ryan Spooner when he was first called up to the Boston Bruins on February 6th, 2013.

Understandable statements. The Bruins’ system was based on defense, grit and physicality back in 2013. There weren’t many members of the Bruins that had pure breakaway speed, or even an offense-first mentality. But that was just the Claude Julien way at the time, and it worked with the right personnel. And while there wasn’t necessary a spot for Spooner back then, times change, players come and go, and thankfully for Spooner, it isn’t 2013 anymore.

In his first full season in the AHL with the Providence Bruins (2012), the Boston Bruins’ minor league affiliates, Spooner led the team in points with 57 in 59 games. Although he lacked size and strength, and fans were quick to point that out, they failed to see that Spooner’s lightning speed and overall offensive arsenal could be a huge asset to Boston’s big club one day. With a little defensive molding, Ryan Spooner could easily slide into the Bruins lineup and be a success when given the chance. That is precisely what has happened.

The 2015/16 season brought big changes for the Bruins. Core players were let go, future stars were away and new guys were signed. But for the first time in a while, Julien and co had to dip into the Bruins’ system and rely on a couple of new players to step up. Although Spooner was given his chance during the 2013/14 season, where he tallied 11 points (11 assists) in 23 games, and then again the season after that (2014/15) he started 28 games for 18 points, he still had many doubters. He portrayed glimpses of the point getter from his AHL days but struggled to keep up with the overall pace of NHL hockey. But the only way someone is going to improve, is if they’re given NHL ice-time. All in order to be able to adapt in the right way and Spooner would soon become accustomed to it.

It has taken him three years to grow as a player, and now people are believing that Ryan Spooner can really solidify a place in this Bruins team.

It could be argued that a chance has been presented to Ryan Spooner due to the lack of team options, as opposed to him really earning his shot. However, he has taken that chance and is really giving the Bruins a lift from the 3rd line centre position.

This season, Spooner is one of just three Bruin players to appear in every game, 48 in total. In those games, he as accumulated 36 points, which is third most on his team, with 10 goals and 26 assists. That is already a greater number of points this year than he managed in his previous two stints with the black and gold.

He has also been one of the main catalysts for the NHL’s number two ranked power play.

The Bruins are in the bottom third of the league in power play chances, yet possess the league’s second-best power play with an outstanding 18% (second only to Washington’s 18.8%). Spooner is second on the Bruins in power-play points with 14 which has him in the top 25 in the NHL. Patrice Bergeron is the only Bruin with more than him with 20. His offensive awareness on the PP is really impressive. For someone with less than 100 NHL games under his belt, Spooner is able to control the pace and man the power play incredibly well. Whether he’s threading the needle with a beautiful pass to the slot or sniping home a one-time, the 23-year-old shows great experience on the man advantage.

Although his offensive talents are pretty good. Spooners defensive game has seen vast improvements since his first call up to the Bruins. Despite being a -14 on the season, Spooner has learnt to use his speed on defense as well as offense. He’s shown the ability to be able to back-check hard and position himself to make the defensive play through using his speed alone. He gets shoved off the puck in the dirty areas but hasn’t shied away from board battles etc. He’s never going to suddenly become a 200 lbs beast. That’s not his game. He’s quick, elusive and he should stay that way. Through using technique he can become better defensively. Look at Patrice Bergeron, he isn’t the most physically gifted player, but his technique is second to none and that way he’s the best two-way forward in hockey. Ryan Spooner has the offensive tools, he has the best centre in the NHL to learn from and progress defensively.

Without exaggerating, Spooner has the chance to become a solid contributor offensively. He has already proven to his coach Claude Julien that he has worked on his defense, and people around the Bruins will tell you, if you don’t work your behind off to get back and play D, you won’t be playing for Julien again for a while. The 3rd line centre/2nd line winger’s offensive touch allows the Bruins to roll all four lines efficiently, and his importance to the success of this team this year has been bigger than many people care to admit. Quite quietly, Ryan Spooner has risen as one of the Bruins best players this season. Although many are unsure quite how far he can go as a player, one thing is for sure, he can only improve. His consistency could be the difference for a Bruins team who are in major playoff contention this season.

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