When the B's snapped Spooner up with the 45th overall pick in the middle of the second round last June, it stood out as one of the better value selections in the draft, and was really only made possible because of a collarbone fracture that cost him the entire second half of the '09-10 season. I have little doubt that had he stayed healthy, he would have shown enough to the NHL teams scouting him that he would have ended up either as a late-first, or early second-round pick.
Here's a pretty good video on Spooner and why the Bruins getting him where they did was a steal.
So, with Spooner, it's not a question of skill and ability in terms of his potential to be an NHL player one day, but more a question of when he would be deemed physically ready enough to make a go of it. Even after an outstanding development camp performance in Wilmington, Mass. in July and a nice second game (he scored both goals including the OT winner for Boston) of the rookie mini-series against the New York Islanders on Sep. 16, I was thinking that he'd be going back down to junior pretty quickly because even though he's been diligently working on adding strength to his small (5-10) and light frame, he's still pretty small.
Well, I was obviously wrong about that!
Spooner is the one Boston rookie up front who's literally seized the day and not only impressed the fans who've been watching him closely, but the head coach, who isn't an easy guy to please.
“He’s one of those players that’s really impressed me with the fact that he’s got unbelievable hockey sense,” Julien told the Boston media this week. “And sometimes you’ve got a player that has a lot of talent, a lot of skill, but the little details of the game he still has to figure out. This player here, to me, already has that part figured out."
Spooner, who is wearing No. 51 for the B's in his first pro training camp, hasn't looked out of place at all, and has attracted notice for his ability to create and make high-end plays on the offensive side of the house. For a team that was starved for offense the previous year, Spooner is the kind of forward who will tempt the club to keep him on, even if expecting him to be a consistently productive presence were he to crack the Boston lineup at 18 (he's one day older than Tyler Seguin and shares the same January 30 birthdate as Joe Colborne and Max Sauve, though Spooner is two years younger) might be a bridge too far.
At the same time, others beyond Julien have noted Spooner's upside and aren't all that concerned about how his lack of size will translate at the highest level. Here's NHL Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire on him:
Now, he hasn't made the team yet. And, there's probably a pretty good chance that the Bruins will decide that he's better off going back to junior where he's sure to form a key part of a very nice offensive nucleus in Peterborough with Austin Watson and '11 hopeful Matt Puempel, who broke Spooner's team rookie scoring record last year.
But, Marc Savard's post-concussion problems have opened the door for a player like Spooner to, at the very least, get nine NHL games in with the big club so that the B's can better evaluate whether he's best served going back to the OHL or staying up with the big team. It's pretty obvious that Seguin is going to stick, but back on June 26, who knew that we'd be debating whether Spooner was going to make the final cut. He's already outlasted other players taken before he was, including his Petes teammate Watson, whom I believe would have been wearing a spoked-B had the team kept the 15th overall selection (dealt to Florida as part of the Nathan Horton trade). Watson fell to Nashville at 18th overall, and they got a nice bargain with him. But, Spooner's current status goes to show that size isn't everything. Spooner's skill and maturity/coachability are why he's knocking on the door of earning an NHL job.
The Ottawa native worked hard on his physical conditioning over the summer in an elite fitness program in Canada' capital city. He told me about it before his standout two-goal performance against the Islanders:
"I think I just got stronger," he said when asked what the most significant improvement he'd made since being drafted was. "That was the big issue for me; I'm not the biggest guy, so I have to be as strong as I possibly can be. I did that.
"I was working (over the summer) with a guy named Jamie Smith at Peak Performance; he was great. It's a great gym-- there are two of them in Ottawa, I think. The trainer was a big help to me. I just kind of mixed his program with the one that the Bruins gave me. I also did lots of cardio to get ready for the shuttle run we had to do here, so it was a good time."
Spooner's revelations are a case in point as to why you can't judge a book by its cover, and making assumptions based on conventional logic (such as size), because without having the ability to measure the size of one's heart and desire, you can never account for someone who will force the team to sit up and take notice. Spooner has done that, and regardless of whether he sticks in Boston or is one of the final cuts and returns to the OHL, he'll no doubt be riding a tall wave of confidence going forward.
Of course, none of this is really new to Spooner. He's always been confident in his abilities and chances of reaching the NHL one day. This final video of him was shot in L.A. the day before the draft. He may not have been a first-rounder, but Spooner is proving that good things do in fact come to those who wait.
UPDATE-- Well, the B2011DW jinx is in effect-- Spooner went back to Peterborough today (Sep. 28th), but he opened a lot of eyes in Boston and did about as much to raise his stock within the Bruins organization as possible. He's got a bright future in hockey ahead of him.