It’s been a rough year for Ryan Spooner. In reality, it’s been an up-and-down start to his NHL career, hampered by inconsistent lines and inconsistent play. For a 24-year-old the Bruins were planning to have step in and replace Carl Soderberg, he’s been invisible for long stretches, and when he has shown up, it’s been Jekyll and Hyde. Still, that hasn’t infringed on his production—Spooner is 7th on the team in points (2G, 5A), and has been a key cog in the team’s powerplay consistency this season.
But where Spooner has really faltered is his possession play. A storyline last season, when centering Milan Lucic and David Pastrnak, was the inability to break out of the defensive zone for long stretches. While the line was overall productive and didn’t give up a lot of goals, the opposition was able to possess and cycle the puck for scoring chances. This hasn’t improved this season, and in fact it’s been worse in the short sample size so far.
Last year, Ryan Spooner played in 29 games during the regular season, finishing with 8 goals, 10 assists, a +2 plus/minus, and 2 PIMs. During all of this, his CF% RelTM was -1.9. While this is certainly not good, it’s far from being so bad that you’d consider benching him. This was also while playing in front of a team that had Dennis Seidenberg, Dougie Hamilton, and Zach Trotman on defense.
This season thus far, Spooner’s point production has pretty much been in line with was it was last year, just north of 0.60 points-per-game, and his even-strength Points60 has actually jumped from 2.07 to 2.85, good for 2nd best on the roster. But his CorsiFor% relative to the team is now really, really bad. Ryan Spooner is 18th out of 19 forwards with 50 minutes of ice-time this season in CF%RelTM at -10.4. He’s 23rd out of 24 when you include anyone that has dressed at all. This places him behind guys like Adam McQuaid, Tommy Cross, Max Talbot, Zac Rinaldo, even Matt Irwin. Surprisingly, the only player with a worse CF%RelTM than Spooner was Chris Kelly.
Now the CF% numbers could be a little thrown off due to multiple circumstances. Spooner’s dCF Impact is shockingly down from years past, but last year when it was at his highest, he was playing on a line with David Pastrnak, who had the 2nd-highest Shot60 on the team. This year, while Jimmy Hayes ranks first in Shots60 at 12.47, Chris Kelly—Spooner’s primary left wing for the majority of the season—was 21st on the team in Shots60, the lowest among all forwards. And with Spooner being a pass-first center, it was likely that his CF60 would be much lower than previous years.
Since being put on a line with Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes, Spooner’s possession numbers have actually increased, and the line as a whole has a CF% of 56.52. The CorsiFor60 also has skyrocketed from 31.48 with the Kelly-Spooner-Hayes line to 57.99 with Beleskey-Spooner-Hayes. Spooner himself has been a minus player just once in the last six games, and hasn’t finished with a CF% below 50 since the game against the Philadelphia Flyers on October 21st.
Where does he stack up again previous offensively skilled centers in their first real stint with the big club? It turns out, Spooner is actually right along with where David Krejci was early in his career.
David Krejci’s breakout year was his 2008-09 campaign, spent mostly in between Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler. That 3rd line led Krejci to his (still) career-high 73 points, and the Bruins within a point of a President’s Trophy. While that line had good possession numbers (53.7 CF%), the secret of their success was an unsustainable PDO of 111.6, and an unconscionable GF% of 84.8. Eighty-four-point-eight percent in GoalsFor. That is cleary the wizardry of time mage, David Krejci. And also a helluva lot of luck.
But that year wasn’t Krejci’s first year in the NHL. That would be 2007, where he spent most of his playing time with a rookie Milan Lucic, 2nd-year player Phil Kessel, and a quick-and-healthy Marco Sturm. That year, Krejci had 27 points in 56 games played, with a -3 plus/minus and 20 PIMs. He lost more faceoffs than he won (48.4%) and averaged 14:55 TOI. The main strength of his game was his possession numbers, where he posted a 54.3 CF% that season, with very few players being worse with him than without him. He was 6th on the team that year in CF%RelTM, but finished 19th in GF%RelTM, and had a GF% of 44.7 overall. Krejci’s linemates didn’t give up a lot of chances, but they were scored on more than they contributed in the offensive zone.
Flash forward to today, at the start of Ryan Spooner’s first main year with the big club. If we look back to 2013-14, he’s played in 64 games over the last three years, with 36 points in that span. He’s a -2 plus/minus, with 27 PIMs. He’s lost more faceoffs than he’s won, with a career FO% of 42.7, and averaged 13:50 TOI. The opposite of Krejci, Spooner’s main weakness is his possession play, where his CF% sits at 49.2 over the last three seasons. He’s 14th out of 15 forwards in CF%RelTM with 100+ minutes played during this three-year span, only in front of Dan Paille. But surprisingly, his GF% is also the opposite of Krejci’s, where it sits at 52.7%. Ryan Spooner is giving up more shots, but less goals, whereas David Krejci gave up more goals, with less shots.
We’re also dealing with goaltending differences, with Spooner skating in front of Tuukka Rask, while Krejci had to play in front of a pre-Vezina Tim Thomas, and main backup Alex Auld. But ultimately, Ryan Spooner isn’t that far off from where David Krejci was at the same point in his career 8 years ago.
I’m not claiming that Ryan Spooner is the next coming of our best offensive center since Marc Savard. I’m not looking for him to score 73 points over his next 82 games either. And Spooner needs to improve in multiple areas of his game—most glaringly, the faceoff circle and in puck possession. But the front office and coaching staff both stated during the offseason that they needed to be patient with younger players, and that there will be times where they make mistakes. It won't be pretty, but it will pay dividends in the long run. Young players need to make the mistakes before they can learn from them.
Spooner is in his first year in a starting role on an NHL squad, and like the dumpster fire on defense, the Bruins contingent has to be patient with his development. Not every rookie skater is going to look like Johnny Gaudreau or Max Domi right out of the gate. But can Ryan Spooner be this year’s Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had a stat-line of 11G-26A-37PTS last year? I think it’s absolutely within reason.