There are two very good reasons why Ryan Spooner is on the outside looking in for the Bruins these days: David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron.
The center, with a game suitable for a top-six forward, is blocked by two of the better centers in the league, something that could be demoralizing for a young player.
“I think Spoons sees what’s in front of him, but what Spoons has to do is control what he can control and that’s his game,” coach Claude Julien said. “You’ve seen teams make room for players when they feel it’s deemed. So he’s got to do the best he can here and impress us to a point where he makes us make a tough decision. Right now that’s what he’s doing and he has to keep doing that.”
“I think you kind of just put it aside,” Spooner said. “You go out there and just prove everyone wrong.”
But where does that leave Spooner? As a bottom-six center? As a winger? In the AHL?
“Every team I’ve ever played on, I’ve been a top-six guy, but I think I can play any position with my speed,” Spooner said. “I like to think that I’m a smart hockey player and I think whatever they want me to do, I could do it.”
But that doesn’t mean that his game is quite ready, necessarily. After Monday’s game against the Capitals, Julien pointed out that Spooner still needs to work on being a two-way player. That’s the route to playing time with the Bruins, especially. Spooner also won just one of his five faceoffs in the game, won by the Bruins, 3-2, in overtime.
“We’ve got to assess him for more than just his speed and creativity,” Julien said. “Our team is based on being able to play a two-way game. You have to be that kind of a player, and even our top skill players play a good two-way game.
“Not too many teams have those guys that just bring the one dimension to the game because it eventually catches up to you.”
Julien did say that he has seen improvement from Spooner in that area, but more is needed.
Spooner said it took some time for him to “figure it out” defensively, but that he’s improved since junior hockey, when it was not particularly good. That doesn’t mean he’s all the way there.
“Sometimes, I get kind of hemmed into my own end a little bit,” Spooner said. “It’s definitely something I’m going to work on.”
The 21-year-old Spooner spent the offseason dropping his body fat (from 12 percent to 8.4 percent) and working on his strength, both of which enhance a game based on speed and the ability to create plays. He knows that as a smaller player — 5 feet 10 inches, 180 pounds — he’ll need to use that to be stronger on pucks.
He also spent more time skating than he has in the past, all of which translated into good results in his fitness testing.
Overall, Spooner has had an excellent camp, with Julien often bringing up his name as a young player who has impressed the team. The coach has said that the Bruins are committed to keeping him at center, believing that his skills translate better there.
And that means he’s likely headed back to Providence at the end of training camp.
“I can’t really focus on all that kind of stuff,” said Spooner. “I’ve got to focus on just playing the game. And at the end of the day, if what I do isn’t enough to make the team, I’ll go back to the American League and work on the things they want me to work on.
“I think the biggest thing for me right now is just to try to stay focused, not really think too far ahead, just think about game-by-game and practice-by-practice.”
His plan is just to show the Bruins what he can do, show his grit and his abilities, no matter where those might best fit.
“I feel like a team like Boston, they like to use their speed a lot, their backcheck and their forecheck,” he said. “I think that’s one of my strengths is my speed, so I think if I’m smart about it, I could fit in here.”
He could. But it’s not going to be easy to break in on a team that has the center position filled with veteran players. Still, he has impressed the coaching staff and the front office — and he isn’t feeling quite as out of place as he has in other years.
“I think so far I’ve played well,” Spooner said. “I think for the first time, actually since I’ve been in training camp, I actually feel comfortable out on the ice, not really nervous. Kind of just doing things that I do best.”
It was fight night at the Garden, with the main event Milan Lucic vs. Joel Rechlicz. The pair went at it, with Lucic throwing right after right at the 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound Rechlicz, who managed to stay on his feet throughout.
“That guy had a steel jaw,” Julien said. “It was a fight for men. People who enjoy that kind of hockey certain got their money’s worth, just on that one alone.”
(And it wasn’t only them. Aaron Volpatti dropped the gloves with Kevan Miller. Rechlicz also fought Johnny Boychuk. And the night was capped with a double bout – Nick Johnson went down easily to Michal Cajkovski and Adam McQuaid took on Dane Byers.)
“I was hoping he was going to go down, but [he’s a] big, tough kid,” Lucic said. “Great fight. I’m sure you guys enjoyed it.
“There’s probably no better way to get back into it.”
But getting into a fight in the preseason isn’t always the best choice for a guy assured of a job, especially a guy as important to the Bruins as Lucic.
“Obviously there’s a lot of cons to fighting in the preseason,” Lucic said. “You don’t want to break a hand or get a concussion or anything like that from fighting in the preseason.
“The pros are you’re showing that no matter what the situation is and no matter what the game is, you’re going to stick up for yourself and your teammates.”
And, after all, he added: “I didn’t really have a choice.”
Tuukka Rask faced just 14 shots, not exactly what he was hoping for. In fact, when Connor Carrick scored the first goal for the Capitals at 11:16 of the second period, that was just the third shot Rask had seen. “Today was probably one of the worst-case scenarios for a goalie who likes shots,” he said. Julien said that Rask would play the game in Saskatoon on Friday, the final preseason game for the Bruins . . . Zdeno Chara scored twice on the power play, once on a tip in front of the net and once from the point on a five-on-three. “We continue to look at that,” Julien said. “Nothing is carved in stone.” . . . The team assigned right wing Craig Cunningham and defenseman David Warsofsky to Providence and will place defenseman Mike Moore on waivers for the purpose of assigning him to the Baby B’s.