BOSTON — Ryan Spooner entered Saturday night’s matchup with the New York Islanders as the Bruins’ third-line center. By the end of the game, he’d become a fourth-line wing.
And, based on both Spooner’s production after the switch and the line combinations at Monday’s practice, that appears to be where he’ll remain for the time being.
Spooner tallied a goal and an assist after his mid-game assignment to skate alongside fourth-liner center Joonas Kemppainen and right wing Tyler Randell, nearly equaling his point total from the first six games of the season (one goal, two assists). Kemppainen also added a goal and an helper as the Bruins took down the Islanders 5-3.
“I think (Spooner) excelled where he was last game and managed to score and get an assist,” head coach Claude Julien said after Monday’s practice. “We’re looking at, again, what’s best for the team, and right now, what are the best line combinations. And we’re trying things in practice. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be like that (Tuesday night). It could, or it may not be. We’re just doing our jobs here.”
The benefit of the lineup tweak was twofold, as it allowed the Bruins to beef up what had been a defensively weak third line while simultaneously taking some responsibility off Spooner, who’d excelled on the power play but been either a non-factor or a detriment in most other areas.
“I haven’t been awesome in my own end,” the 23-year-old said, “so I think to get moved to the wing, it kind of takes a little bit of stress off of me.”
Julien did not seem concerned about Spooner’s transition to the wing, a position he has played only sparingly at the NHL level.
“I think the main thing is — and I’ve said it all along — centers can play wing,” Julien said. “I’m not sure how many wings can play center. So, that’s the luxury that we’ve always had. (Chris) Kelly’s played the wing for a long time. (Max) Talbot was basically a centerman as well. We’ve got a lot of those interchangeable parts, so we’re trying to take advantage of it.”
Spooner is the most offensively gifted of Boston’s bottom six forwards, but he’s recorded just nine shots on goal through seven games, a total that’s tied for ninth on the team. For reference, he averaged 2.5 per game in 29 contests last season.
Perhaps a positional shift — which, Julien stressed, might not be permanent — will help unlock some of that potential.
“I think for me right now, it’s just about trying to find a good balance between the power play and 5-on-5, and I guess being more consistent,” Spooner said. “So, that’s where I’m at right now.”
Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images
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