How the Edmonton Oilers Can Unlock Ryan Spooner

On November 16th, 2018, the Edmonton Oilers made a surprising move. They moved out Ryan Strome in only his second season after being acquired for Jordan Eberle. The ultimate return for these trades was Ryan Spooner. Spooner is an effective forward when he is put in the right situation. Unfortunately for the Oilers, he has not found “the right situation” yet in Edmonton.

Spooner was brought to Edmonton, Alberta because Strome was struggling. In 18 games this season with the Oilers, Strome had only 2 points while playing on the third line. That third line struggled offensively to the point where Chiarelli felt the need to bring in a player who is more offensively gifted. Unfortunately, so far, Spooner has been unable to find any traction whatsoever in Edmonton.

So What’s Been Going on?

Through 7 games, Spooner has registered no points and is currently a -6. That’s not a great showing from the new Oiler. At the 7 game mark, you would think a player would have adjusted to the new systems implemented. After 7 games, Strome has adjusted to the playing styles of the New York Rangers. Since joining the Rangers, Strome has tallied 3 points in 6 games.

Unlike Strome, Spooner has had to adapt to the playing style of three different head coaches this season. When he first arrived in Edmonton, he was playing for Todd McLellan. Now, with Ken Hitchcock running the show in Edmonton, an argument can be made that he’s still finding his footing. I believe however that the key to unlocking Spooner’s offensive talent is in his line-mates.

Spooner plays a certain brand of hockey, one that makes the skills of his line-mates very important. Last season Spooner had 41 points, his second highest career total, coming close to his personal best of 49 points in 2014-2015. A staggering 16 of those points came in only 20 games as soon as he was traded to New York from Boston, so what changed?

Struggle with Line-mates

In New York, he had more minutes, higher quality line mates, and, most importantly, cover. In Boston, he originally started out his season playing largely with Marchand and Pastrnak. After a cold streak, a lack of chemistry broke that line up. Afterwards, he played with names like rookie Jake DeBrusk, an often injured David Krejci (44 points in 64 games), rookie Anders Bjork, Riley Nash, and Sean Kuraly. While he did not completely disappoint with these players posting 25 points in 39 games, he left much to be desired and was subsequently traded. Why did I list those names? well…

The difference in quality with New York is staggering. In the Big Apple, he played mostly with players like Kevin Hayes, Jesper Fast, Jimmy Vesey, Mats Zuccarello, and rookie Lias Andersson. Minus Andersson, who only had a 7 game cameo, all of the Rangers players listed were at or near at least 30 points (Vesey only had 28). Out of the Boston players listed, Kuraly and Bjork had 14 and 12 points respectively. While all of Nash, Krejci, and Debrusk had 40+ points, keeping Bjork or Kuraly there had an impact on Spooner’s effectiveness which brings me to my main point.

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Ryan Spooner needs to be insulated by two successful forwards in order to succeed, and at times he can struggle adjusting to star players. This doesn’t make him a bad or ineffective player, what it does do; however, is stick him in a role. Spooner is an effective middle 6 complementary player. He is a guy who can play well on a second or third line if he’s surrounded by two players who have an equal or greater skill level compared to his.

In his final season with the Boston Bruins, he had a very good Corsi and Fenwick for ratio of 52.9 and 51.4 respectively. When he was on the ice in Boston, he helped drive possession and played a responsible game, because he had to drag a Bjork or a Kuraly with him. After his deadline trade to New York, his possession numbers tanked while his offensive number sky rocketed, posting a 41.4 Corsi for rating and a 37.9 Fenwick for rating. These numbers paint a clear picture that while the player can succeed at possession and at scoring rates, he can’t do them in tandem.

Can You Talk About the Oilers Now?

Edmonton has a depth issue, a big one. Outside of Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers have no proper forward depth. Edmonton’s forward core is filled with prospects, maybes, and PTO surprises.

While it’s nice to see Alex Chiasson doing as well as he is, there is a 0% chance he holds on to his current 38.5 shooting percentage. Drake Cagguila is also seeing an unhealthy bump in offense that would suggest regressing to the mean is imminent. Ty Rattie has all but disappeared (Hitch is not his biggest fan) and Jesse Puljujarvi, while promising in his last game against Dallas, has still struggled to find his offensive stride.

So where does that leave Spooner? I mean, other than between a rock and a hard place? You can try to see if he’d eventually click with McDavid for an extended period of time. You could also see if a line of say Puljujarvi-Nugent-Hopkins-Spooner would work, but I think the easiest answer is moving a familiar face to his and Nugent-Hopkins’s line.

I believe a line that includes Milan Lucic is the answer. Earlier, I mentioned that Spooner’s career high in points was in 2014-2015, wherein he coincidentally spent a lot of time with Lucic. While he’s been unable to score, Lucic boasts a 52.4 Corsi for and a 51.5 Fenwick for ratio suggesting that he can help carry possession. Also Lucic has had success in the past with Nugent-Hopkins, albeit it with Jordan Eberle on the right side.

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If they mesh well together forming a dependable second line, that would be an enormous boost for Edmonton’s anemic offense. It could even help Lucic re-find his scoring touch. So what do you think? do you agree with my ideas? Leave a comment down below or hit me up on twitter at @chayzdj. I love a healthy discussion! stats from hockey-reference and  

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