Of the 10 meaningful NHL games Ryan Spooner has played so far in his career, his latest, namely Saturday’s visit to Vancouver, was his busiest. It also yielded several notable, if unquantifiable, actions that will make him worth watching with further scrutiny as the Boston Bruins’ top offensive prospect evolves.
Spooner played an NHL season-high 18 shifts and 16:52 in cumulative ice time amidst Boston’s 6-2 drubbing at the hands of the Canucks. That eclipses his previous high of 15:29, which he logged against Winnipeg on March 19, 2013.
He failed to produce a point and was among the 13 visiting skaters to lose a point under his plus/minus heading Saturday, but that merely put a mild damper on an otherwise valiant individual week. And even in a downpour of vinegar for the team, his competitive level came through clearly at many moments, ensuring that the end of his week was not entirely sour.
Due to mounting injuries, the second-year professional pivot garnered his latest promotion from Providence last Sunday at the outset of a four-game Canadian road trip. Over a string of victories to start the voyage, Spooner sculpted himself a plus-two rating while logging third-line minutes as Chris Kelly’s stand-in.
He owed that, in part, to his assist on Reilly Smith’s clincher with 4:33 left in Tuesday’s third period en route to a 2-1 triumph over Calgary.
Mark that down as one "can’t hurt" tangible highlight. For an extra layer of significance, on top of clicking with less than five minutes left in regulation, Spooner picked up his primary helper 98 seconds after teammate David Krejci’s equalizer. That speaks to a hungry competitor recognizing, appreciating and seeking to expand upon momentum on behalf of his team.
Spooner flaunted just as much energy in a reverse scenario on Saturday while facing a more formidable adversary. This time, although it did not affect the scoreboard in the end, he was just as hungry in his hustle when fresh momentum was working against the Bruins.
The first of the two setbacks to evaporate his preceding plus-two rating came at 16:37 of the first period. He was working on the wing with Krejci and Milan Lucic when Krejci’s turnover sent the Canucks on a counterattack en route to Jannik Hansen’s startling conversion from neutral ice.
The Lucic-Krejci-Spooner troika, assembled for Jarome Iginla’s temporary absence, stayed on the ice for the ensuing faceoff. Precisely 30 seconds after Hansen’s icebreaker, Spooner chased down a loose puck at the end wall of Vancouver property and graciously accepted a hit from Hansen.
While stapled to the boards, Spooner chipped the puck to Krejci in the corner. Krejci, in turn, fed Lucic for a threat on Roberto Luongo’s porch, though the Canucks netminder quelled that threat by summoning a quick whistle.
Moments later, with Boston on a power play in the always potentially momentous final minute of the stanza, Spooner was seeing action in the alley and took the opportunity to wage a 43-foot slapper at Luongo.
In the fourth minute of the middle frame, while lined up with Lucic and Iginla, he was in on another sustained attack that granted Iginla two stabs, including one on net as well as another shot by Lucic. Off the next draw, Smith deposited a 1-1 equalizer, doubtlessly feeding off the energy the previous line brewed on the previous shift.
In the closing stanza, now reunited with Smith and Carl Soderberg, Spooner shared the defensive discredit on another Vancouver goal from long range. Yannick Weber’s 51-foot point blast augmented the host’s advantage to 4-1 with 18:26 to spare.
By the time Spooner returned to the ice, his team was facing a 5-1 pothole with 15:58 left. Yet he and his linemates once again waged a rapid response in the offensive zone, setting up defenseman Matt Bartkowski for a bid that Luongo hauled in for another stop with 15:46 to go.
These plays were implicitly what Spooner and Providence head coach Bruce Cassidy had in mind when they spoke with MetroWest Daily News reporter Dan Cagen last month. Per Cagen, Spooner said that Bruins assistant general manager Don Sweeney had advised him to “…focus hard on pucks. That’s one thing that they’re always harping on me.”
Cagen’s Nov. 21 write-up also quoted Cassidy as saying, in terms of Spooner inching toward graduation from the AHL, “It’s being assertive on battles…Plus winning his share of puck battles, and that includes faceoffs.”
Granted, Spooner has yet to post sparkling data on the latter front, having won only three of his eight draws versus Vancouver and taken limited faceoffs otherwise. But his battle with Hansen and his scrum with Calgary’s Joe Colborne that precipitated Smith’s winning rush on Tuesday speak to him processing the collective higher-ups’ message.
It does not hurt his cause to remember that Saturday represented an upgrade in competition based on who he was skating against. The Canucks, who are facing gridlock in the Pacific Division and Western Conference, have taken shape as a different animal than the bottom-feeding Flames, Oilers and Islanders, whom Spooner has also faced this season.
All of this ought to make for no less than a dollop of solace for Boston’s brass given the ongoing slew of injuries, particularly among forwards. The fact that they made yet another call-up in Craig Cunningham on Monday while hinting that Loui Eriksson and Daniel Paille will remain out indefinitely all but confirms that things won’t be changing much in that regard.
As long as there is an immediate need for AHL stand-ins on the active NHL depth chart, there should be a place in Boston for Spooner. He was among the last round of cuts at training camp and is now demonstrating versatility, flexibility and willpower in his first extended stay with the parent club.
Although this promotion has happened primarily by default, Spooner is gradually gaining control of his destiny. The coming weeks figure to give him ample opportunity to sculpt an impossible-to-ignore transcript, complete with a couple of goals and more assists as well as opportunistic grinds that reach the videotape, if nothing else.
As long as he keeps polishing the ever vital “little things” and turning in more plays a la last Tuesday and Saturday, there is no reason why he should not remain an NHL player from here on out. Even if that means supplanting the likes of Jordan Caron as the spare 13th forward once normalcy is restored for the balance of 2013-14.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com