The Penguins chose Daniel Sprong in the 2nd round of the 2015 NHL draft. There were many analysts that were shocked that he dropped that low given his offensive ability and NHL caliber shot. It seemed like a steal for the Penguins.
Sprong seemed like a “Phil Kessel lite”: an extremely gifted offensive player with a terrific release on his shot, but little to no defensive ability. As unfortunate as it is, the Penguins will need to move on from Kessel at some point, and many saw Sprong as Kessel’s eventual replacement given their similar strengths.
After being drafted by the Penguins, Sprong actually impressed management so much that he stuck around for 18 games of the regular season. He only notched 2 goals with no assists, but he still had a ton of promise. In fact, after being sent back down to Charlottesville, Sprong put up 46 points in 33 games as well as 15 points in 12 playoff games. He was a -7 in the regular season, which spoke to his lack of defensive ability, but the Penguins knew that.
They worked with him on his defensive game, knowing the offense would come naturally. It showed in his stats the following year with Charlotte, where he played 31 games, racked up 59 points, but was a +29.
Last year, he split time between Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh. He was a point-per-game player in Wilkes, tallying 65 points in 65 games and was a +4. He played only 8 games with the Penguins and had 2 goals and an assist, although all 3 points came in 1 game against the Islanders.
This year, Sprong certainly hasn’t looked out of place. He has no goals but 3 assists in 6 games, which isn’t bad considering he has been playing on the 4th line and getting extremely limited minutes. In fact, he is 3rd on the team is points per 60 minutes (2.88) behind only Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. He seems like he is playing more responsibly defensive-wise than he did in his first NHL stint, and has been creating opportunities when he is out there. But, there are some issues that are clearly present, as Sprong looks to be a healthy scratch for Tuesday’s tilt against the Oilers:
Sprong is still young and still certainly has the potential. The staff tried him on Sidney Crosby‘s wing in the preseason for all of 3 or 4 games, and obviously didn’t like what they saw. As a result, Sprong isn’t skating on the 3rd OR 4th line just 6 games into the season.
When I watch Sprong play, I just have the feeling he isn’t…natural. He doesn’t look like he is truly playing the way he is capable of playing. His style of play seems…forced? If you remember, the staff tried to have Kris Letang play “safe” last year to protect himself and his neck injury. He certainly wasn’t awful, but never seemed completely comfortable, and that was evident. This year has been different as they have loosened Letang’s leash. He looks like a Norris candidate early on in the season.
Is this what is happening to Sprong? I think so, and Ryan Wilson (@GunnerStaal) summarizes my thought process perfectly:
Sprong is putting all of his time and all of his effort into “playing the right way” and “doing what the coaches want him to do.” He isn’t playing to his strengths, which is his offensive abilities and his shot, and until the coaches give him some sort of leash, the Penguins will never be able to truly gauge Sprong’s value.
My suggestion? Just trade him now. I absolutely do not think he is a lost cause, but he is just going to continue rotting in the Penguins system if they hold on to him. He still has value, and if the Penguins aren’t going to use him and play him to his strengths, they may as well trade him and get whatever value they can before he completely loses his value. Don’t let Sprong become the next Derrick Pouliot.
Just trade him already.