Ryan Spooner didn’t know what to expect this offseason, and the speedy center certainly had his doubts about whether he’d be back with the Bruins this season. The 26-year-old really struggled down the stretch last season following a concussion and was a healthy scratch for the last couple of playoffs in the first round against the Ottawa Senators.
So the former second round pick became a potential trade chip over the summer as the Bruins attempted to upgrade their defensemen corps, and the B’s signed a potential young replacement in Boston University standout Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson. Still, Spooner ended up staying with the B’s after he was protected in the NHL expansion draft and now finds himself again as the odds-on favorite to be the third line center for Boston to start the season.
Clearly the tumult and the playoff benching did some good for Spooner, however, as it spurred on some soul-searching about his own game after he realized that he’d be getting one more chance with the Bruins.
“I wasn’t sure [about the future]. I heard a lot of the media stuff that I wasn’t going to be back, but I tried not to pay attention to a lot of that. It’s hard, though, because I had a lot of my friends and family telling me what they hard, but I do feel like I’ve got something to prove now,” said Spooner. “I really took it heart at the end of the year when I didn’t play [in the playoffs]. I kind of looked at my game and I wasn’t really happy with it. There are a lot of things that I need to work on.
“The offensive side for me is always something I’ve been good at, but in terms of the face-offs and the defensive side of the game I need to be a lot better at that. That’s kind of where I’m at right now.”
Spooner worked hard over the summer to gain some much-needed size and strength and finds himself all the way up over 190 pounds – 192 pounds to be exact -- for the first time in his pro hockey career. He hopes the added weight will allow him to play stronger on the puck and be a tougher player to play against after taking a half-step back last season.
“I tried to put on five points, but I ended up putting on seven or eight…so that’s good,” said Spooner, who dropped to 11 goals and 39 points along with a minus-8 last season after posting 13 goals and 49 points the year before. “Just given how the season ended, I was also looking more at the mental side of the game for me. I just looked at the things that I need to work on. This is the year where I kind of need to work on some things, or I’m not going to be here anymore. I just want to focus on the things that I can get better at and then go from there.
“I think I can be a much harder player to play against, and if I can do that then it’s going to help me out a lot. That’s the flaw in my game that I see.”
One thing Spooner isn’t worried about with the added bulk is losing the skating speed that’s his bread and butter. He made certain to skate and keep up the conditioning while upping the calorie intake over the summer, and it should make him a speedy, stronger competitor more able to engage in the one-on-one battles necessary for success at the NHL level.
That’s something that could really add to his offensive game during 5-on-5 play where he hasn’t always been as productive as he his masterfully working the half-wall on the power play.
“I was 182 or 183 pounds [last season] and now I’m up to 192 [pounds], so hopefully that can help me out in the corners and on the compete side of things. I’ve just got to keep the cardio side of things and I’ve been doing that, so hopefully it works out for me,” said Spooner. “I did it slowly and made sure I was still skating and doing the cardio at the same time. So I’m satisfied with the [skating] speed. Sometimes it can be a bit of a concern when you’re up seven or eight points that you can get a low slower [on the ice].”
Spooner was also crystal clear he knows that this season represents his last chance with the Bruins based on the one-year deal he received as opposed to a multi-year contract. That being the case, this season should be the absolute best that Spooner has to offer knowing that his future with the Bruins, and perhaps long term in the NHL, hangs in the balance.