BRIGHTON -- There are several Bruins players who might benefit from the coaching change from Claude Julien to Bruce Cassidy, but perhaps none more than third-line center Ryan Spooner.
Spooner, 25. has struggled while being forced to play wing most of the season, with 8 goals and 27 points and a minus-4 rating in 54 games. Coming off a year in which he posted 13 goals and 49 points in 80 games in his first full NHL season, it was assumed Spooner would make a step forward this year playing an offensive game based on his speed and playmaking ability.
Spooner seemed as disappointed as anyone that Julien was fired on Tuesday morning, but is undeniably optimistic that a change to Cassidy, his coach for several successful seasons in Providence, could mean a greater focus on the speed, skill and offensive creativity that favors his game.
“At the end of the day [Claude] just wanted me to be the best player that I can be,” said Spooner. “He’s going to move on. He’s a great coach and I think he’ll do well.
"[Cassidy] likes to play with pace and he’s more of an offensive-minded coach, so it’s good. Last season as a centerman I had some ups and downs . . . but I thought it was a pretty good season for me as a whole. So it’s a challenge for me [now] to go out there and play well.
“The coach we have now was my coach for 2 1/2 years [in the AHL], so he knows what I can do. It’s a little bit like a fresh start.”
Spooner's never gotten untracked this season, mostly playing left wing with David Krejci and David Backes, and it was speculated he might be involved in a trade. Instead, Cassidy said the organization needs to make a determination on which position best suits Spooner's skill set, be it wing or center, and seems determined to get the best out of him.
Cassidy also dropped some pretty lofty names when alluding to Spooner's ability to control the puck and create offense from the wing position.
“I think moving from center to the wing, I don’t know that he’s bought into it yet if that’s the right term . . . or if he’s embracing that role,” said Cassidy. “Only he can answer that. But no matter where you play on the ice this is a difficult league, especially as a young guy. You have to embrace the role you’re put in if you want to have success. He did at times, and I thought he was good at times on the wing. There are a lot of guys like him on the wing. He could emulate a Johnny Gaudreau, or pick a skilled, speedy guy that’s not a big, heavy guy. You just have to be willing to put the work in on the walls and go there while embracing that part of the job.
“Every position has kind of a lousy part of the job too it, right? But you’ve got to do it, and there’s times where he needs to go to the net. So those are the areas where the staff is trying to encourage him to do without the puck. He’s a guy that’s used to being a center, and making plays while having the puck through the neutral zone. That’s where it changes as a winger, but there’s nothing to say you can’t become a little more like Patrick Kane. He’s a winger and he has the puck all the time, so he finds ways to get it and excel at what he does best. Some of it’s reps and getting comfortable with it. He would have to answer that question, but I think he’d prefer to be a center iceman. That’s he’s been. So we have to do a better job of selling the value of being a winger, or he goes back to the middle and see if we can get the best of it.”
There are others besides Spooner -- like Colin Miller, Joe Morrow, or even Krejci and David Pastrnak -- who could benefit from the change to a coach with more of an offensive bent. But there’s also little doubt that No. 51 might just be the guy on the ice who's helped the most.
An energized, confident and fully productive Spooner could also be the key to the Bruins getting a lot more offensive production from their bottom two lines, which have been offensively barren for far too much of this season.