BostonBruins.com - You can watch Ryan Spooner during practice or in a game. No matter the situation, you'll always notice his speed and soft hands.
When I sat above the TD Garden ice on Monday morning, watching him quarterback a power-play unit from the half wall, the way he weaved in and out of the right faceoff circle, stickhandling, with his head up, quickly registering all of his options, as his other four teammates moved their feet down low, up top, in front of the net, I saw a hint of David Krejci.
Spooner, after all, was the forward recalled from Providence during the 2012-13 season - in his first year pro - on an emergency basis, when Krejci was deemed day-to-day. He suited up on March 19, in Krejci's spot alongside Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, and impressed Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien enough that he played two nights later, with Rich Peverley as a healthy scratch.
The center had made his NHL debut about a month prior, on February 6, 2013, taking his first-ever NHL shift on the power play, having been called up to the big club with Brad Marchand, Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille out with injuries.
It appears that Spooner is impressing the B's bench boss yet again.
Twelve days and three preseason games into Boston's training camp, he has been showing why he's established himself as the first centerman to get the call to the big club, in line behind David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell.
"He has had a really good camp, and obviously the last three games, in my mind anyway, have been really good," Julien recently told media of Spooner, prior to him playing in his fourth preseason game.
Juilen has been impressed with his improvement, NHL-caliber skating, and ability to be more involved in the play. But, as there's always much discussion of a forward playing center or on the wing, Coach feels Spooner's game is much better suited in the middle.
With Chris Kelly's centerman presence on the third line, and Carl Soderberg making a case that he should have a spot there as well (he had two goals in his first three games to start the 2013-14 preseason), along with wingers Reilly Smith and Nick Johnson, among others, it seems as if Spooner might not be reaching that full-time role yet.
But, things can change.
"Guys, don’t be surprised that we have to make a tough decision down the road," Julien told media. "That tough decision doesn’t necessarily mean sending [Ryan] down; it could be something else."
"We certainly haven’t written that off because he’s played that well. The thing with Ryan now is the ability to sustain that kind of a game, and that’s what he’s got to continue to show."
"That's why I work so hard in the summertime, to be at this point and right now," Spooner said on September 22, of having his sights set on making the Boston roster. "I think I'm playing pretty good. I just have to keep doing that and hopefully things will work out for me."
And he's well aware of that depth down the middle; he's just not worrying about it.
"Since my first year here, they've had pretty much had all of their centerman spots locked up, so I mean, for me, it's just to come in here and make a good impression," said Spooner. "And if I do get sent back down, make sure I'm the first guy getting called up, and make sure that I'm ready for that."
He experienced the two recalls last season and has admitted to his nerves maybe getting the best of him the first time around.
Heading into 2013-14, whether he's in the AHL or NHL, Spooner is definitely more comfortable with his game.
"For the first time since I've been here, I actually feel comfortable on the ice," he said, of coming into training camp. "I'm not really nervous to make plays, just kind of doing things that I do best and if I do that, it's definitely going to help me out."
"I haven't felt nervous on the ice, so I've been able to use my speed, and when I'm able to do that, I can kind of draw some penalties here and there, and get some scoring chances off of that too."
He drew at least two penalties on September 21 in Detroit, one of which saw him streak to the net with that speed, and draw the penalty that led to a Carl Soderberg power-play goal, sealing the 2-0 preseason win.
In 2012-13 with Providence, the B's 2010 draft pick (45th overall) made the transition to the pro game, leading the P-Bruins in scoring with 17-40=57 totals in 59 games. But offense has always come easy to the crafty centerman.
"I think the one area that Ryan has had to improve is his involvement in those areas where you’ve got to battle for pucks – getting in there and battling, or, if he doesn’t have it, the pursuit, and everything else," Julien said, of the growth he's seen from Spooner.
"We’ve really stayed on top of him as far as that’s concerned, to help him through, because everything else is there. We talked about his speed, his skating ability, his play-making ability, he’s got all those tools to play in this league, and there’s a part of his game that needs to improve, and that’s what’s made him a better player in the last three or so games, that you’re starting to see that."
"So it’s important for him to continue to do those things, and that’s where his involvement from the beginning to now, you’re seeing a different player, because that part of the game is being added to the qualities that he already had."
As a result of those improvements, Spooner has never felt more comfortable with his game.
"When you get into trouble with things, and you try to sit back and just try to not make any mistakes, right? Sometimes, you're going to make mistakes and you've got to go out there - and just play the game that I'm best at."
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