WILMINGTON, MA — Ryan Spooner knows that he would be remiss to take anything for granted.
He knows that the Bruins will likely have a couple of open spots at forward when training camp opens next week. Those spots are there for the taking, and he and his Providence counterparts are ready to pounce.
Spooner has been gearing up for this opportunity for a long time. Now, finally, he feels that his time has come to seize it.
“It’s my fifth camp — for my first four, there had been one spot open,” he said following Friday’s informal skate at Ristuccia Arena. “So to come back here and have a couple spots open is good.”
Spooner is no stranger to the NHL. On a number of different occasions last season, he was recalled from Providence, totaling 23 games with the big Bruins and compiling 11 assists. That experience, he said, will be a monumental help as he embarks on another training camp next week.
He said that the fact that he failed to score a goal with the big Bruins last year told him everything he needed to know: He would need to improve his shot if he intends to carve out a spot for himself on the 2014-15 roster.
So over the summer, that is what he did.
“I think sometimes I look to pass a little bit too much, so I just got to shoot more,” he said. “I worked on my shot in the summertime, so that’s kind of what I’m trying to do — trying to score.”
Spooner has also been focusing on improving his performance on the dot — “I think I was at 40 percent,” he said of his faceoff percentage last season, “which is not very good.”
While Spooner has certainly honed in on the areas he must improve, he knows there are plenty of things he does well. He knows he’s an excellent setup man. He knows that he has the kind of skill and speed to make an impact on an NHL roster.
But he knows there is always room to get better, especially after a couple of road blocks last season.
“I ended up getting sick last year — I lost, like, 15 pounds, I think,” he said. “I think I just wasn’t used to playing every Monday, Wednesday, that kind of thing. So that’s something that I’m going to need to, I guess, get accustomed to.”
While that bout with the flu could have sidetracked a player, Spooner would not allow that to happen. He bounced back from the illness, crept back toward his normal weight and emerged as a bona fide leader of the P-Bruins, finishing the 2013-14 campaign with 46 points (11 goals, 35 assists) in 49 games. In the playoffs, he tallied a whopping 15 points in 12 games, exceeding his previous career high — in the same number of games — by 10 points.
Last season marked a progression for him in terms of leadership as well: He was tasked with taking the reins of a very young team and guiding them first toward a strong postseason push and, eventually, to an impressive performance in the Calder Cup Playoffs. He and the P-Bruins knocked off second-seeded Springfield in the first round, proving that they, perhaps, had been underestimated.
Finally, it seems that all of the pieces are coming together for Spooner. He knows what it takes to withstand the unforgiving grind of an entire professional season. He understands his areas of strength and his areas of improvement. And he has his eyes set firmly on the prize: He wants to make the NHL roster this year, more than ever before.
“My first two camps, I didn’t expect to come in here and make the team, but after that, and after I played a season of pro hockey, I was expecting to, I guess, at least come in here and at least have a chance,” he said. “It’s my fifth camp here, and hopefully this is the year.”