Ryan Spooner continues to earn playing time
Since Claude Julien took over as head coach of the Bruins for the start of the 2007-08 season, the now longest tenured coach in the league has preached defense first hockey. With a Stanley Cup title, a second Stanley Cup appearance and Presidents’ trophy under his belt, it’s safe to say that his defensive minded system has worked.
Players like Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, to name a few, have excelled under Julien as guys who are very skilled two-way forwards. Marchand, Bergeron and Krejci are the type of players who can put the puck in the net when needed, but at the same time can save a goal with a timely back-check or a smart decision with the puck in their own zone.
The Julien era has seen some big names come and go in Boston. No one around the Bay State will forget the days Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin were scoring 25-plus times as members of the Bruins.
With Seguin dominating the league in Dallas, and Kessel enjoying his first season in Pittsburgh after much success north of the border in Toronto, many blame Julien and his defensive system for why Kessel and Seguin were shipped out of town way before they should have. It’s tough to ask guys that are that offensively talented to play a defensive game, no doubting that.
It’s no secret that Julien has more trust in players who are safe bets in the defensive zone over players who are better offensively, but a bit of a liability defensively.
Ryan Spooner falls under that category.
Prior to this season, Spooner struggled with consistency as he was bounced around between the American and National Hockey Leagues. A top prospect in the Bruins organization, Spooner saw limited ice time with the Bruins during his first three seasons. Spooner averaged about 11.5 minutes of ice time per game over the course of his first three seasons.
The 2015-16 season has been a different story for Spooner, but it didn’t start that way. Spooner averaged about 13 minutes per game through October and November where he tailed five goals and seven assists in 22 games.
Since the calendar flipped to December, Spooner has continued to impress with three goals, 12 assists and 14 points in 16 games. Throughout December and during the first two games of January, Spooner is right around 15 minutes per game.
When the Bruins lost Krejci to an upper-body injury that has the forward in the week-to-week status, Spooner has jumped in and filled in for Krejci very nicely. The 23-year old Spooner has been manning the center spot on the Bruins second line in Krejci’s three-game absence. In those three contests, Spooner has registered 17:02, 20:50 and 19:49 of time on ice respectively. Only one other time this season has Spooner skated more than 17 minutes of ice time, (17:04) which came on December 20 in a 2-1 shootout victory over the New Jersey Devils.
Ryan Spooner is tied for fourth on the team in points (Photo credit: Joe Makarski, Bruins Daily)
In the three games since Krejci’s injury, Spooner has four points to tie Patrice Bergeron and Jimmy Hayes (three of those coming off of Hayes’ hat trick against Ottawa on December 29th) for most points scored in Krejci’s absence.
Spooner’s production increase as his minutes do is a coincidence you say? Well, not so fast.
According to Sportingcharts.com, Spooner averages 2.86 points per 60 minutes. What that means is for every 60 minutes of ice time Spooner gets, he averages 2.86 points. That is good enough to rank him second on the Bruins behind Bergeron (2.91) and rank him 19th overall in all of the National Hockey League. Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane leads all of hockey with 4.10 points per 60.
Yes, Spooner is still going through growing pains—mostly in his own zone and at the faceoff dot. Spooner is currently a minus-7 on the season and has won just 42.2 percent of faceoffs to rank him fourth among current active Bruins centers.
Spooner’s five-on-five play is still not quite there, but his work on the power play has given the Bruins a spark and has helped the team to the top ranked power play in the league. Twelve of his 26 points have come with the man advantage.
Spooner’s 26 points has him tied with Marchand for fourth on the team and his 12 power play points ranks him second.
Tuesday’s loss to the Capitals was a perfect example of the ups and downs Spooner has faced this season. Spooner was by himself with no Capitals forward in the general area in the high slot as Andre Burakovsky skated by behind Spooner. All Spooner could do was wave at the puck with his stick as Evgeny Kuznetsov made the slick pass to an open Burakovsky who deposited his fourth goal into the Bruins net.
Spooner made up for it, though. Later in the game on the power play, Spooner entered the zone with the puck and despite having two Capitals collapse to him, he made the smart play and found Bergeron who cut the Capitals lead in half.
When Marchand returns from his suspension and Krejci comes back from injury, Spooner will find himself back on the Bruins third line and that’s fine. But Julien needs to find ways to continue to let Spooner loose and keep him around the 20 minute threshold we’ve seen the last three games. Spooner and the Bruins can only benefit from that.
With the increased minutes, more defensive zone mistakes are likely to come, and that too is okay. At 23, growing pains will happen. It’s how Spooner responds to those mistakes that’s important.