Rookie forwards in the NHL don’t often make teams, out of training camp, that are expected to be Stanley Cup contenders. That’s precisely why the situations for center Ryan Spooner and right wing Matt Fraser are something to monitor with only three preseason games left for the Bruins before they open the regular season a week from Wednesday vs. Philadelphia.
Under Claude Julien, the Bruins have featured some deep rosters which meant that it was hard for a young player to get ice time. Additionally, the head coach expects his forwards to employ a two-way game. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in Providence or shipped away (read: Tyler Seguin). Spooner actually scored a goal in Boston’s preseason opener vs. Montreal, but Julien preferred his performance the next night in a 2-0 win over Washington.
“Guys are going to make mistakes but I thought he was better (tonight),” Julien said of Spooner. “He made a couple good plays. Offensively he can excite you and be a real useful player. He has to be committed on the other end (defensively) to be a good player for us.”
Fraser has a heavy shot from the left side and he’s already scored two goals in the preseason, including a tally on Friday in Washington where he drove to the net for a rebound and was able to put it in despite having his helmet knocked off. Like Reilly Smith and Loui Eriksson, Fraser came to Boston as part of the Seguin trade from Dallas. The undrafted 24-year-old’s claim to fame so far with the B’s was his memorable overtime winner in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last spring vs. Montreal. In 40 games with the Providence Bruins last season, he put up 20 goals and 10 assists, including nine power-play goals and three game-winners.
Spooner appeared in nine more games (23-14) for Boston than Fraser did last season and he responded with 11 assists (but no goals). In Providence, he had 11 goals and 35 assists last season in 49 games. Getting him to shoot more has been a clear directive from the B’s. Spooner also took it upon himself to be better in the face-off dot.
“If I have a chance to shoot, I have to take it,” noted the former second-round pick, who is only 22. “The other centers that are here (David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Gregory Campbell) are all great on defense too. Being stronger will help me win more face-offs.”
Boston’s fourth line had a great run these past few years, but with Shawn Thornton now employed by the Panthers and Campbell temporarily out with a core injury, the Bruins probably realize that the role of the checking line has changed around the NHL. With less fighting in the sport, players on that line have become a little more skilled and are able to add some secondary scoring punch.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate