July 10, 2011

Spooner showing some swagger at camp

by Kirk Luedeke

Bruins prospect Ryan Spooner is expected to compete for a roster spot at the team's main camp in September. (Getty)

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- A year ago, Ryan Spooner was a little over a week removed from being a Boston Bruins draft pick when he attended his first development camp, but these days, he has the look and swagger of a seasoned veteran in the organization.

The second-round selection (45th) overall in 2010 has been turning heads in Boston in every venue he’s participated in (development camp, rookie camp and games against the New York Islanders, training camp and 2010 preseason and an end-of-season stint in the AHL with Providence), but he appears to have raised the bar even higher based on the first three days of skills development and power skating work.

As if to underscore the excitement that has been building around him since B’s fans got their first glimpse of him last summer, Spooner made one memorable highlight reel play during a three-on-two drill Saturday. Carrying the puck over the blue line, Spooner suddenly exploded into an extra gear to get around the defenseman covering him. He then dipped his shoulder to fend off his man as he drove to the net, zoomed across the top of the crease and beat netminder Zane Gothberg to the far side where he deposited the puck into the cage.

Such offensive exploits are what Spooner has been known for since he began playing hockey at age 4 in his native Ottawa suburb of Kanata, Ontario.

“Well, we’re very excited to have Ryan as part of our group, first and foremost,” Bruins assistant GM Don Sweeney said Saturday after the conclusion of the day’s on-ice work. “He’s a highly skilled player, he plays at high, high speed, something we want to continue to have in our organization and I think he’s going to make other players better.”

Spooner traveled with his parents (he also has an older sister) to Boston for the fifth annual prospects camp after several months of grueling training to add mass to his 5-foot-10 frame. Currently weighing in at 185, he may not get all that bigger, but hopes to at least be able to play at 190 or 195 pounds at his peak. However, even if he may not possess the ideal size for the NHL grind, Spooner’s skill level puts him at the front of the B’s prospect class.

“The last two years I’ve been pretty dedicated to making myself stronger,” Spooner said Saturday after another fine performance in the various team drills and skating session. “Because I know that if I don’t do that there’s no way I’m going to be able to make it at the next level. I’m going to be maybe not the smallest guy out there, but one of [the smallest] so if I’m strong, at least I can make up for my size.”

If the size serves as an obstacle for the natural center with explosive speed, quick hands and a laser shot with pinpoint accuracy, he hasn’t let it hinder him from making a statement to Boston’s brass and key decision makers. One year ago, he parlayed a strong development camp performance in July into an even better rookie camp, main camp with the B’s veterans and ultimately, several strong preseason games before returning to the OHL.

“[Spooner] showed very well in training camp last year and really pushed to stay right to the very end, and deservedly so,” said Sweeney. “Obviously the bar resets this year, and he’ll come back and try and do the same thing. I could sit here and guess, but I bet you I’m accurate in the fact that he thinks he can make this hockey club, and that’s a great thing, you know, for the kids to come in here and feel that way.”

The 19-year-old started skating and playing hockey at age 4 and almost immediately became a standout performer in the Ottawa area with his speed and dazzling puck skills at an early age. While the offense has always come easy for Spooner, even he admits to not having had a great deal of experience or emphasis placed on the defensive aspects of his game.

“When I was a 17-year-old, I had a lot of bad habits and have just tried to focus in on trying to break those,” Spooner said Saturday. “Just little things like faceoffs and things now I just have a lot more confidence than I did when I was 17. Just knowing enough to work on the game, knowing what to do.”

Spooner had a career year in the OHL, splitting time between Peterborough and the Kingston Frotenacs, where he was traded in November. In 64 games, he posted 35 goals and 81 points. His head coach was former NHL star Doug Gilmour, but with Gilmour assuming sole duties as general manager in Kingston, new coach Todd Gill will be behind the bench if Spooner returns to junior.

“It was awesome,” Spooner said of being under Gilmour’s tutelage. “Having him as a coach, he’s been there before. So if I had any questions, he was always there to help me. With a new coach coming in, we’re going to have a young team this year, but I think we’re going to be a hard-working team.”

Spooner went to Providence when his Kingston team was knocked out of the OHL playoffs by the Oshawa Generals, playing in three AHL games and scoring a pair of goals to go with one helper.

“I love the fact that he came down to Providence at the end of last year unsigned, but wanted to come and play hockey and wanted to kind of be a sponge to absorb, he wanted a taste,” said Sweeney. “You could just tell that the kid is gung-ho; he wanted a taste of what it was going to be like to play against bigger, stronger players. And he came in and did very well, we asked him to shoot the puck a little bit more and he did that.”

Given his impressive progress in just one year since joining the Boston organization, Spooner could be shooting for a lot more come fall. His skill level is NHL-caliber already and even if his time is not now, it’s hard to imagine that Spooner is all that far away from earning a job in the big show.