Ryan Spooner is something of a question mark in Jeff Gorton’s blueprint for a rebuild. The former second round pick is turning 27-years-old next season and will be an RFA with arbitration rights on July 1. Is Spooner’s time in New York limited, or could he be an unexpected fixture for the next few years?
Let’s take a look at one of the most interesting assets that the Rangers acquired in this year’s deadline fire sale.
Spooner is a natural center and that makes his future in New York particularly intriguing. It’s no secret that the Rangers have been hurting for center depth since the Derek Stepan trade. But with youngsters like Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil itching to make the big club next year and Vladislav Namestnikov now a part of the team, it seems premature to pencil Spooner in as the team’s third line center.
It’s interesting how having “too many centers” is a problem that this Rangers team would have loved to have back in October.
Spooner has never been good on the dot, but there’s a lot more to the center ice position than winning faceoffs. A creative passer, he moves the puck exceptionally well and he’s also a great puck carrier. Spooner may not have the skill to cross sticks with the best centers in the league, but in a sheltered role he’s capable of being an impact player.
What stands out most about Spooner is his offensive production. In the 2015-16 season, his first full year in the NHL, he put up 49 points. He had 19 primary assists during 5-on-5 hockey that year with Reilly Smith and Matt Beleskey as his most frequent linemates. Spooner’s production dipped last season, but he was rebounding nicely this season (despite dealing with injuries) before being traded to the Rangers.
In his first two games with the Rangers, Spooner has displayed the passing ability that earned him 101 assists in 223 games with the Bruins. He has already tallied five assists with the Rangers. Small sample sizes are fun, huh?
Spooner isn’t going to be a 20 or 25 goal guy anytime soon, but his vision and hockey IQ in the offensive zone make him a natural fit on the power play. Before this year, he had 35 points on the man advantage over the past two seasons – that’s more than any current Rangers’ player in that time excluding Kevin Shattenkirk.
Analysts and writers have accused Spooner of shying away from contact for years. Spooner, like so many other undersized NHL forwards who like to have the puck on their stick, plays primarily on the perimeter. Naturally, that has made him an easy target for criticism when he doesn’t end up in the box score.
Former Bruins head coach Claude Julien was a frequent and vocal critic of Spooner’s defensive game. Relative to the Bruins other forwards, the data supports Julien’s opinion. Spooner did not have a favorable relative expected goals for percentage on the Bruins this year or last year. Because of that, many believe he is better suited to play wing.
“I think [Spooner] is committed to trying to play the right way, and help and do his job defensively away from the puck, whether it is back-checking and reloading well and getting in the shooting lane,” Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said back in January. “I see a commitment there, and when we put him on the wing when [David] Krejci was in, he was willing to do that.
“I think he is a different player,” Cassidy continued. “I don’t know if there was a little bit of something going on with him to start health-wise, only he could speak to that. He was definitely hurt at the start, trying to play through it. He is a guy who needs his legs; that is his greatest asset.”
As cliché as it may sound, Spooner is the kind of guy who should benefit from a change of scenery.
The good news for Gorton and the Rangers is that Spooner going to be less expensive to re-sign than Kevin Hayes will be and J.T. Miller was going to be. It would not be surprising to see the Rangers try to sign Spooner to a one-year “show me” deal that would end in him becoming a UFA and therefore a player who can be moved at next year’s deadline. Alternatively, the Blueshirts could look into signing him for a multi-year deal, but that will not be a priority with RFAs Hayes, Namestnikov, Jimmy Vesey, and Brady Skjei needing new deals as well.
Spooner is coming off of a one-year, $2,825,000 contract. If the Rangers want him around for more than next season his AAV is going to approach $4 million a year, depending on the term. There’s a good chance that a contract like that won’t fit into Gorton’s vision of what this team needs to be. If that’s the case, moving him on draft day would be the best way forward.
The Rangers’ general manager could turn the former Bruin into another early round draft pick or possibly package Spooner to move up in the first round. The Rangers aren’t the only team that are looking for scoring depth and center depth. Spooner will be worth something to someone on draft day, especially if he continues to put up points with the Blueshirts.