Ryan Spooner’s Tremendous Preseason May Force Bruins to Find Way to Keep Center in Boston

Ryan SpoonerThere’s no denying that Ryan Spooner has earned himself a full-time job in the NHL. The problem for him, though, is where do you put him?

Spooner has turned plenty of heads this preseason with a fantastic performance. He’s taken advantage of every opportunity that’s been presented to him, and he did that in arguably the biggest way Thursday night in Winnipeg. The young center scored a goal and added an assist on the game-winning Loui Eriksson goal in overtime. Spooner also played 16:33 in the win and was a plus-2 for the B’s. His speed was evident — particularly on a give-and-go that set up the goal with Eriksson — and he was in position to make good things happen all night long.

Spooner now has four points — one goal and three assists — in the four preseason games he’s played in.

The production certainly isn’t the problem. The on-ice play isn’t the problem. By all accounts, there’s nothing wrong off the ice. Yet it’s generally assumed there’s a good chance Spooner starts the season in Providence. That’s because the Bruins are so deep down the middle at the center position. One would assume the Bruins were already set with NHL centers at all four lines with David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell all fairly locked in.

However, Spooner’s play of late may include the combination to those locks.

The Bruins are getting to the point where they might need to do something creative to get Spooner on the roster when the puck drops for real next week. Perhaps the most logical idea would be to move Kelly to wing. He’s no stranger to that position, as he played on the wing when he was in Ottawa. Bruins coach Claude Julien was actually asked about the idea of moving Kelly to wing earlier this week, but the question was actually posed in relation to getting Carl Soderberg some looks at center.

“We’ve seen Kelly, he’s played wing for quite a while in Ottawa. So it’s something that we may entertain, whether it happens or not,” Julien said after Monday’s game. “We’ve talked about that, Carl at center and Kells on the wing.”

Would the Bruins do the same in order to get Spooner on the roster? It sounds as if they want to use Spooner primarily as a center, so that might be an option. However, Julien clearly values faceoff ability, and Kelly is the best option in that regards. For what it’s worth, Spooner did win seven of his 11 draws Thursday night, which is surely an encouraging sign. A trade is always possible, but it might be unlikely Kelly is moved. He carries $3 million this year and next, and he also has a no-trade clause, according to CapGeek.com.

Julien has called on Spooner to show improvement in his all-around game, and the head coach admitted Monday that he’s seen progress in the two-way play. But Julien also said that consistency is important, especially when the Bruins are evaluating the roster as a whole and making the important decisions they’ll be making in the coming days.

“Training camp is one thing; we also have to make decisions based on consistency,” Julien said Monday. “Whether a player can keep that consistency and we’ve seen in the past where we’ve kept guys at the start of the season and as the season went on they weren’t able to keep up the pace so we make decisions based on their performance. So right now he certainly is a guy that is playing at the level of almost everybody else.”

Spooner continued to do that Thursday proving that at the very least, he’s going to make this a difficult decision for the Bruins. It’s not necessarily easy to fit the 21-year-old into the Bruins’ roster as it currently stands. Then again, it’s getting very difficult to justify not keeping him around when the regular season starts.

Here are some other quick thoughts from the Bruins’ win Thursday in Winnipeg.

  • It’s beginning to be tough to say that Niklas Svedberg isn’t the front-runner for backup goalie. Svedberg stopped 28 of 30 shots Thursday night, including a barrage of power-play shots late in the second period. If the Bruins decide he doesn’t need anymore AHL seasoning, it sure looks like the job is probably his.
  • The line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Loui Eriksson has all the potential to be scary good. They’re so responsible and so smart. However, they’re not there just yet, it seems. They’ll figure it out sooner than later, but it would appear there are still some chemistry issues to be sorted out. That line went offside four times Thursday night by my count.
  • It’s also starting to look like Dougie Hamilton is being beaten out for the sixth defensemen job by Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski. Hamilton committed a couple of penalties Thursday night and didn’t exactly do a ton offensively, including on the power play. Meanwhile, Krug’s power-play abilities and continued progression would seem to make him a shoo-in, while Bartkowski played another fairly solid game. It will be interesting to see, however, if the club wants to put Hamilton — its first-round pick from just a couple of years ago — in Providence to begin the year.
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