BostonBruins.com - The holiday season is here, but the injury bug has been more Grinch than Santa to Boston Bruins forwards. The good news is that even with several key veterans out of action, the organization’s depth has held up, with younger players coming up to the big club to help the B’s maintain the top spot in the Atlantic Division with a recent 3-1 Western road swing.
Ryan Spooner and Matt Fraser headed up I-95 to Boston with the losses of Chris Kelly and Shawn Thornton after ending November 1-2 in scoring for their AHL team.
Spooner replaced Kelly on the third line and has been gradually gaining confidence and earning an expanded role in his second call-up of the season. Not surprisingly, Spooner’s play has been up-and-down as he adjusts to the pace and skill of the NHL game.
Fraser has played sparingly, but did see some time on Boston’s top line when Jarome Iginla was being treated for a hand injury against Vancouver. Though the veteran and future Hall of Famer returned to action, Fraser showed some flashes of the talent that saw him rack up 16 goals in just 23 games with Providence. He’s a pure shooter with a killer instinct around the net.
Veteran pro winger Nick Johnson came up when Daniel Paille went out of the lineup and has seamlessly fit into Boston’s fourth line as an effective energy forward who should be able to chip in some points.
The former Dartmouth star and free agent pickup who turns 28 on Christmas eve, had an impressive training camp and start to the season with Providence. A smart two-way player who skates well and takes pucks hard to the net, Johnson has more than 100 career NHL games under his belt with Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Phoenix and Boston. His experience and versatility has allowed for Coach Claude Julien to roll him out without factoring in some of the challenges and adjustments that younger, novice pro players normally face.
2010 fourth-round pick Craig Cunningham was also summoned to Boston this week, his first regular season stint with the B’s. The undersized left wing has posted consecutive 20+ goal seasons in the AHL and has the work ethic and character to be more than the sum of his parts. Although Cunningham may not possess ideal breakaway speed, he compensates with quickness and shifty elusiveness in the offensive zone. With his intelligence and vision, Cunningham plays an instinctive and gritty game, going into the greasy areas of the ice and using his quick stick to score goals in heavy traffic.
In losing some 41 goals and 78 points from the Providence roster in the past two weeks, head coach Bruce Cassidy is still getting mileage from his lineup, as greater opportunities for ice time and development are emerging for rookies like Seth Griffith, Matt Lindblad, Anthony Camara and Alexander Fallstrom.
In the next edition of the Bruins prospect roundup, we’ll take a look at the results from the 2014 World Jr. (U20) Championship tourney and performances from the organization’s assets competing in Malmö, Sweden.
Bruins Prospect Snap Shot:
Ryan Spooner, C Providence (AHL) / Boston (NHL)
Scouting Report: The 21-year-old has superb skating ability and offensive skills. The 45th overall pick in 2010 is a deft stickhandler who is becoming more and more assertive with the puck in the attacking zone, whether maintain possession and distributing effectively along the half-wall or exploiting seams in defenses to generate quality scoring opportunities. More of a passer/playmaker than a goal scorer at this stage, but has the accurate shot to finish off chances when he gets the puck to the net. At his best when backing up defenders with pure speed and lateral quickness; displays the kind of vision and creativity to be a point producer and power play ace eventually at the highest level. Defensive game is still a work in progress and he doesn’t have the size to bring a physical dimension, but Spooner has come a long way from where he was when the B’s drafted him. Willing to do the little things: finish checks, fight for loose pucks, back check with authority but must keep doing it all with greater consistency. His faceoffs need work, but with several top mentors in Patrice Bergeron, Chris Kelly, and assistant coach Doug Jarvis, Spooner should improve technique/performance with added experience and practice.
Outlook: Since joining the Bruins organization, Spooner has impressed with his natural offensive talents, but has worked to build up his body/conditioning while addressing defensive shortcomings. He had a productive training camp, but was not quite ready for prime time in Boston. Now, with an opportunity to see the first real extended NHL action of his young career, he’ll need to keep things simple and do what the coaches ask to earn trust and added ice time. Like most youngsters, it’s been an adjustment for Spooner in facing the world’s best competition, but he’s growing and learning from being around the veterans and rounding out his game to better fit Boston’s style and system. He’s not there yet, but getting closer.
Kirk Luedeke covers the Boston Bruins and NHL prospects for the New England Hockey Journal and is a contributing editor and hockey scout for the Red Line Report. You can follow him on Twitter at: @kluedeke29