By Kirk Luedeke
Ryan Spooner had a sluggish beginning to the season but enjoyed a strong month of November in his development and is rounding into form just in time for the meat of the schedule.
After nine points in his first 14 games in September and October with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, the skilled center and Boston Bruins 2010 second-round pick ripped off 19 in 11 contests. Spooner raised his season scoring totals to 12 goals and 28 points in 25 games with the Frontenacs, and his energetic two-way play has keyed Kingston to better success of late.
“I just think the slow start might have something to do with the new team we had in Kingston,” he told New England Hockey Journal earlier this week. “People were not too familiar with each other and it took us about 10 games before we started to jell and play better hockey. The wins have been coming a little more regularly, which is good.”
The team won only a single game in its first 10, but has gone 5-4-0-1 over the same span most recently. Although the Frontenacs are still in last place in the Eastern Conference with a 7-16-2-2 record, Spooner’s resurgence has been important to the club’s improved competitiveness.
“I was getting chances; it wasn’t like they weren’t there,” Spooner said. “But the pucks weren’t going in, opponents were making more plays and it just wasn’t happening. Now, we’re burying a lot of those chances and making the plays that we weren’t earlier. It’s been fun.”
In addition to the renewed production, Spooner is pleased about his improved play on the defensive side of the puck. Playing for first-year coach Todd Gill, a former NHL defenseman, has been a good experience for him in terms of helping him to do the little things to make him a more complete player.
“He knows a lot about the defensive aspect of the game,” Spooner said of Gill. “He’s a real good person to talk to and he’s helped me with the little things that you need to be successful at the highest level. Sometimes, in junior hockey, you can get away from those things, but he’s been good about making sure we understand our responsibilities and helping us with what teams are expect from their players at the next level.”
Spooner is working on overcoming perceptions of his limitations established in his first three seasons of major junior, and things are finally coming together for him.
“The knock on me has always been the defensive aspects of my game,” he said. “People have always seen me as being an offensive player, more of a one-dimensional player, but I think I’m starting to shake that image. I know that I have to be a good two-way player to succeed at the NHL level and I know more is expected of me than just the offense.”
Spooner made a statement during the two-game Subway Super Series against a select squad of Russian stars, posting a pair of goals and six points to lead team OHL to a sweep of the contests. That performance, along with how well he’s produced since November is no doubt instrumental to his recently being named to Team Canada’s World Junior Evaluation Camp, which will convene in Calgary next weekend.
“It’s exciting,” he said of the first opportunity he’s had to compete for Canada in the world’s most prestigious under-20 hockey competition. “Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to make the team. It would be a dream come true, but I have to perform (in Calgary), work hard and not look too far ahead. I have to take everything on a game-by-game basis and hopefully it will work out.”
When asked about his improved defense perhaps opening the door for him to play more of a checking role for the WJC team, Spooner said he would welcome any challenge presented him.
“I’m pretty sure (Team Canada) is looking at more of a top-six role for me,” he said. “But if they want me to play more of a specialized role on the (penalty kill) or anything else, I’ll be happy to do it. I’m not the most physical guy, but will can lay my body around and play my game. I’ll be whatever they want me to be.”
The Kanata, Ont., native will turn 20 next month, meaning that
this season could be his last in major junior. Spooner will be able
to spend the entire 2012-13 season in the AHL if he doesn’t
make the Boston roster out of camp next fall. Last spring, he
joined Providence for the final weekend of the regular season along
with friend and fellow OHL standout Jared Knight (also eligible for
full-time AHL duty next season).
In three games, Spooner tallied two goals and three points, helping the Baby B’s to a 3-0 record to close out the year.
“Next year I’ll have the chance to go to Providence,” Spooner said. “I’m pretty excited about that. Obviously, my goal will be to make the NHL, but if not, the chance to be on that team and in that system a little bit helped me a lot in terms of what to expect.”
Depending on how things go with the rest of his OHL campaign, Spooner might return to Providence for another late-season experience, but he has been linked to trade rumors in Kingston since the season started.
Despite conflicting reports, he has not asked for a trade out of Kingston and a source close to Spooner told New England Hockey Journal that he enjoys being on that Frontenacs team and welcomes the challenge of trying to get the club out of the Eastern Division basement.
Of course, Spooner’s skill and age make him one of that rebuilding club’s more appealing trade commodities. Whether he wants to go or not, he may find himself on the move in the not-too-distant future to one of the OHL’s contenders, who hope that the diminutive but highly skilled Spooner can put them over the top in a Memorial Cup run.
Until then, the Frontenacs will continue to count on Spooner’s offense and diligence in all zones.
“The thing with Spooner is he makes everybody around him better," Gill told the Kingston Whig Standard earlier this season. "He is going to score some goals but his creativity, the way he can pass the puck and the way he opens up room for other players, will help guys like the (Cody) Alcocks, the (Petr) Beraneks and whoever else plays with him."
The Bruins are eager to see Spooner apply that kind of skill and creativity in the NHL eventually. The more situations he can compete in like the World Jr. tournament and an extended OHL playoff run to hone his game, the better.
Kirk Luedeke can be reached at email@example.com