WILMINGTON — Ryan Spooner’s name seemed to keep coming up. When Bruins general manager Don Sweeney spoke to the media this summer, from his introductory press conference to his availability surrounding the July 1 opening of free agency, there was Spooner’s name.
It made sense. Sweeney knows that in the new iteration of the Bruins, speed will be a key component. And few of his players present more tantalizing speed than Spooner, who finally saw his game come together at the end of last season.
The Bruins appear committed to going where the rest of the NHL has gone, and committed to Spooner, sending last year’s third-line center, Carl Soderberg, to Colorado before the draft. With Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci ahead of him, Spooner seems to be one of the few Bruins with a spot nearly locked down as the third-line center. Yet he isn’t taking any chances.
“I’m going to take it as I don’t have a spot right now and that’s kind of where my mind’s at,” Spooner said on Wednesday at Ristuccia Arena.
It’s a far cry from where he was last year at this time, when he came to camp and did not distinguish himself. Since then, Spooner returned to the NHL in February to help form the Bruins’ best-scoring line at the end of the year, alongside Milan Lucic and David Pastrnak.
“I think when I was called up before I was more focused on trying to score and get shots on net and all that kind of stuff,” Spooner said. “At the end of last year, I just came up, I was going to try to play the defensive side of things, and if I did get the puck, just kind of go down and try to do my thing and it seemed to work out.”
Spooner finished the season with eight goals and 10 assists, all of which came in the 24 games after Feb. 22. At age 23, he finally established himself as a piece of Boston’s future. He was rewarded this offseason with a two-year deal with a salary cap hit of $950,000, a deal that solidified his place on the club.
“It’s not fun to get sent up and down,” Spooner said. “When you’re on a two-way deal, you kind of never know when you’re going to be down and you’re going to be up.”
Despite his cautious words, Spooner will now be up. He will be trying to help the Bruins find their new identity after a summer of change. And, if Sweeney’s message from earlier in the summer still holds true, Spooner might have just the skills to help bring that about. As Spooner said, “I feel like the teams that were in the top five, most of them, had not a huge team, but they were fast. They had a lot of skill. That’s definitely good for me.”
It hasn’t always been easy for Spooner, who had to adapt to how the Bruins wanted him to play. He had to remember his defensive responsibilities, but at the same time, had to make sure he was still able to utilize his offensive skills.
He also had to please his coach, who wasn’t entirely happy with Spooner’s game at times.
“I think he has to be,” Spooner said, of Claude Julien’s tendency to be tougher on young players. “I think when you get called up, I think at the end of the day he just wants us to be successful, that’s why he’s a little bit harder on us. I think it’s worked out for me. He’s said some things about me. But I think at the end of the day I probably wasn’t playing how I should have. I think that it’s kind of worked out for me.”
He added, “I’ve had some coaches that have not said anything at all and I don’t think that’s good because you think you’re playing well when you’re actually not — so I think it’s a good thing, for sure.”
It appears Spooner has broken through. He has earned praise from his general manager and playing time from his coach. And this training camp, Spooner is simply glad that it isn’t like last year. His confidence is up. His play is up. His strength is up. The rest, he believes, will take care of itself.
“I’m just going to go out there and focus on my game right now,” Spooner said. “It doesn’t matter who they play me with. I’m just going to go out there and play.”
The NHL announced the schedule for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey on Wednesday, with the event taking place from Sept. 17-Oct. 1 of at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Bruins Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask, and Pastrnak were all on hand in Toronto for the announcement. Former Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was named the co-manager of Team North America, along with Chicago GM Stan Bowman. Team North America is the 23-and-under team, comprised of players from both the United States and Canada . . . Matt Beleskey hasn’t yet played with any of his Bruins’ teammates, but he is pretty familiar with one of them. Beleskey played with the Canadiens’ P.K. Subban for three years on the Belleville Bulls (2005-08) and a certain future Bruins’ goaltender would often be in attendance: Malcolm Subban. “He used to come to games when he was 12 with his parents and everything, so it’s kind of funny to be out there shooting on him now,” Beleskey said.