BOSTON — Welcome to the big time, Ryan Spooner.
With an upper body injury sidelining David Krejci for the foreseeable future, Spooner now will face his greatest professional challenge to date, as the Boston Bruins’ new second-line center.
“It’s going to be the first time I’m up on the top two lines,” the 23-year-old said Tuesday as the Bruins prepared to host the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden. “I think a couple of years ago, I played there for a game. But I’m excited for it, and I just have to be, I guess, confident in myself and just believe that I can get the job done.”
Krejci has been one of the Bruins’ best and most productive players this season, tying Patrice Bergeron for the team lead with 33 points and recording at least one in 25 of his 35 games. His will be large shoes for Spooner, who is in his first season as a full-time NHL player, to fill.
“You don’t replace a guy like Krech,” Bergeron said. “You don’t want to try to do that. It’s about playing a game and really stepping up individually and as a team, and that’s really the only way we can approach this. When you’re missing one of your best players, it’s always tough, but at the same time, you need everyone to respond, and it starts (Tuesday night).”
Spooner has skated on Boston’s third line in nearly every game this season, but his adjustment to the tougher competition top-six forwards face should be helped along by the presence of right wing Loui Eriksson, whose ability to excel in all three zones will take some pressure off Spooner on the defensive end.
“Loui’s a smart player,” head coach Claude Julien said. “So in this situation, he probably has to step up and be a reliable guy. But at the same time, I really think it’s always unfair to say, ‘Well, it’s up to this guy, it’s up to this guy.’ It’s up to the whole team. If we can’t get everybody to step up, then it’s going to be tough.”
One specific area where the Bruins will need a full-team effort is at the faceoff dot. Spooner’s ranks last among Boston players who have taken at least 100 draws with a 41.7 percent success rate, a full eight points behind Krejci (49.8 percent). Krejci also was the third B’s centerman to go down with a serious injury this season, following Chris Kelly, who is expected to miss the rest of the year with a broken leg, and Joonas Kemppainen, who hasn’t played since suffering an upper body injury Dec. 7.
Kemppainen has won an impressive 52.3 percent of his faceoffs in his first season as a Bruin.
“When you lose a guy like Krejci, when you lose a guy like Kelly and Kemppainen, who’s been really solid on draws, you got thinner and thinner, and you’re probably at your thinnest right now, if you want to look at it that way,” Julien said. “I think it’s so important that our group as a whole on the ice just takes charge. Maybe you have to get grittier, maybe you have to tie up, go for loose pucks — whatever the case is depending on the centerman and how he’s been doing on that specific night.”
Spooner, who is expected to skate between Matt Beleskey and Eriksson against Ottawa, has gone without a point in his last four games but posted 10 over the previous six.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images