Pittsburgh Penguins: Daniel Sprong’s Goal – Make the Pens, Now


With a goal and assist in his first preseason game with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the goal for Daniel Sprong to begin the season in the NHL became a little more possible. Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, Sprong did not outshine the breathtaking offensive performances of Sidney Crosby or Phil Kessel, but he succeeded in looking like an NHL player. One with a future.

In a sign of the domination of the weaker Hurricanes roster, Sprong was one of eight Penguins with a multi-point game. However, the others with two or more points (Letang 1+3, Crosby 1+2, Kessel 2, Kunitz 0+2, Malkin 0+2, Hornqvist 0+2, Maatta 1+1) all figure to play key roles in the Penguins season.

For the Penguins first selection of the 2015 draft, 46th overall, the goal is simple:  To impress the organization enough to get that coveted nine game regular season tryout. It seems a lifetime ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins begrudgingly gave rookie Jordan Staal that nine game tryout and he surprised all by never giving back that roster spot. However, the Penguins have been in Stanley Cup contention, real or imagined, every year since and they have not created much opportunity for young players.

“He’s strong on the puck and his awareness, he sees people all over the ice.  I’m excited. He’s going to be a top winger” — Mike Johnston

As fellow reporters whizzed around the locker room, getting quotes from marquee names like Phil Kessel, I was able to ask Sprong if he feels like he is forcing the Penguins to give him that coveted nine game tryout.  His answer was direct, “That is the goal”.

Head coach Mike Johnston also seemed to open the door to keeping the Dutch prospect.  “He caught my eye in the (rookie) tournament,” Johnston said.  “(Sprong) has a good stick.  He’s strong on the puck and his awareness, he sees people all over the ice.  I’m excited.  He’s going to be a top winger”.

The Sportsnet 411 on Daniel Sprong compared his game to that of both Patrick Kane and potential teammate Phil Kessel; shoot first, shoot often. Sprong stands about 6 feet tall, but he is not as slight as Kasperi Kapanen or Beau Bennett once was. He is not bulky, but neither is he skinny.

While talking to the 18-year-old, it struck me that he has obviously undergone media training.  While he seemed a little unsure of himself, his answers were rehearsed and cliché.  He used the phrases like, “one day at a time” and “day by day” in nearly every answer.  He spoke quickly, as if he were expecting me and a few of  the gathered reporters to abruptly drop our recorders to chase down one of the highly paid all-stars strolling through the room.  Assuredly, we did not.

The aspiring rookie, who led the Charlottetown Islanders in scoring (39 + 48 = 88) said he learned much from his first game, “it’s about puck control, it’s about timing and things like that.” While Sprong admittedly tries to “soak it all in”, he may be different from rookies past. Through one preseason game, he displayed strength on the puck, an ability to find open ice and  looked as if he belonged on NHL ice.  Should he stick around, his first goal as a Penguin will be a microcosm. He found himself alone in the left circle, barged to the net with his right-handed shot, but seemingly surprised by the wide open opportunity, he nearly lost the puck before settling it and beating former Stanley Cup winner, Cam Ward.

A projected first round pick, concerns over his size and defense kept Sprong on the board until the Penguins called his name with the 46th overall pick.  For NHL prospects, being drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round is akin to being sent to Siberia.  Few are ever heard from again. The last second round pick to play over 100 games in a Penguins sweater, without being traded or released, was 1976 drafted, Greg Malone.  Technically, Richard Park played in 111 games with the Penguins, but his two stints with the team were 15 seasons apart.   Otherwise, it has been 39 years of futility.

The Penguins incredible forward depth is certainly an obstacle for Sprong, as is his reputation for selective backchecking. However, the Penguins also want four scoring lines and Sprong would clearly fit that designation.  His ability to find space for his shot is intriguing.  From a solid performance at the August rookie tournament in London, Ontario to continued growth in training camp, Sprong is earning playing time faster than most imagined.  While the Charlottetown Islanders would certainly love to have Daniel Sprong returned to them for the QMJHL season, and his impending Canadian citizenship could make him a Team Canada star at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships in Helsinki, forgive Sprong for no longer wanting to be a star at the junior level.

The first Dutch born player in 30 years has bigger plans.  It starts with earning the nine game tryout, then forcing the team to keep him around.  The odds are still against Sprong, but not as long as they were a month ago.  And that is the first step to scoring his biggest goal.

Next: Power Ranking the Pens' Top-10 Defensemen

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