The centerman signed a two-year extension with the club back in July as a restricted free agent - his first one-way deal.
For the first time since being drafted 45th overall by the Bruins in 2010, the 23-year-old will be entering camp with solid footing for his speedy legs.
“In the past, I’d say, four years, the team wasn’t set but you kind of had an idea,” said Spooner, who made his first appearance at Bruins informal practice on Wednesday at Ristuccia Arena, before main camp opens Sept. 17. “ But just going into the season, we’re not really sure what’s going to happen.”
This camp is bound to be one of the most intriguing since Spooner become a member of the organization. There are spots open, new faces all around and young players - including himself - expected to make an impact.
For years, Spooner found himself with plenty of centers stacked above him on the depth chart. That’s not the case anymore.
“I’m just going to come in and I’m just going to try and play and I’m going to take it as I don’t have a spot right now,” Spooner stressed, taking away any notion that he believes his spot is solidified in Boston. “That’s kind of where my mind’s at.”
The center should have confidence, though. After turning the corner at the end of the 2014-15 season, Spooner put up eight goals and 10 assists in 29 games to finish out the season with Boston. He was one of the Bruins’ most dynamic players, skating on a line with David Pastrnak and the now departed Milan Lucic.
He’s poised for a breakout NHL season in 2015-16.
“At the start of the season for me, I was kind of down on myself and it’s not fun to get sent up and down,” said Spooner. “So just for me to play like I did at the end of the year, I kind of just showed that I can play the game that they want me to, and that’s what I’m going to try to do at the start of camp.”
That game involves two-way play, and defensive reliability. Spooner knows that.
“I think when I was called up before, I was more focused on trying to score and get shots on net and all of that kind of stuff,” he said. “And then at the end of last year, I just kind of came up and I just said I was going to try to play the defensive side of things and if I did get the puck, just try to go down and do my thing and it seemed to work out.”
He was pushed by Head Coach Claude Julien, who didn’t shy away from speaking with reporters about his shortcomings.
Spooner liked that his coach was tough on him.
“I think he has to be,” he said. “I think when you get called up, I think at the end of the day, I think he just wants us to be successful and that’s why he’s a little bit harder on us [young players]. It’s worked out for me. You know, he said some things about me, but I think at the end of the day I wasn’t playing like I should of and now I think it’s worked out for me.”
“I’ve had some coaches that have not said anything at all and I don’t think that’s good because you kind of think that you’re playing well when you’re not. So I think it’s a good thing for sure.”
Spooner has come a long way since his first training camp with Boston in 2010 - not only physically (strength was an area of emphasis for him this offseason), but mentally, keeping his play at a consistent level. Patience has been key.
Even as an 18-year-old in 2010, Spooner’s speed and skills impressed Julien and the Bruins’ staff. He stayed in main camp that year through the Bruins’ team-building trip, but was released to his junior team just before the season opened. He needed to work on playing well in his own end.
Come 2011, Spooner continued to impress, but went back to juniors.
Heading into Boston’s next training camp in 2012, the Bruins’ brass believed Spooner could challenge for a roster spot. The lockout pushed back the possibility of that opportunity. He eventually took part in Boston’s camp in January 2013 amid his first pro season with Providence, but didn’t crack the opening night roster. He made his NHL debut that February and was poised for another chance to grab a spot out of camp in September 2013. Spooner was assigned to the P-Bruins after Boston’s final preseason game.
In 2014, the center had his best chance at cracking the lineup out of his fifth camp. He finally made it onto his first NHL Opening Night Roster, but was sent to Providence by mid-October.
It wasn’t until the final few months of the 2014-15 season that Spooner made his presence felt in Boston.
When General Manager Don Sweeney preaches patience with players, he often refers to Spooner. It’s easy to see why.
“I’ve known Sweens since I’ve been 18 and I’ve talked to him a lot,” said Spooner, who came to Boston for a few days at the beginning of August and spoke with the new GM. “And he always just says to me that he wants me to go out there and just compete on pucks and just use my speed.”
“So that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
With the changes that Sweeney made in the offseason, the Bruins are looking to have more speed and inflict anxiety into opponents in 2015-16. That approach plays into Spooner’s strengths.
“At the end of the day, I just have to go out there and I think the most important thing here is I have to play the defensive side of the puck,” Spooner said, putting more attention on his weaknesses. “And I think if I do that, the offensive side of things will take care of itself.”