In the natural inclination to look for an answer to the Pittsburgh Penguins mediocrity or offensive struggles, one solution is repeated more than all others–Daniel Sprong. Sprong can score, Sprong can’t be any worse, and the Penguins need a spark are the posited reasons. Unfortunately, the reasoning is wrong. Very, wrong.
Daniel Sprong may well one day be a top-shelf scoring winger in the NHL, and the Penguins investment of a mid-second round pick will look brilliant. He isn’t yet ready for the NHL game, and it’s not close.
Remember fans yelling for the Pirates to recall Tyler Glasnow? Glasnow was called up to the majors before he completed his tasks (learning a legitimate third pitch and better control). It hasn’t worked very well for Glasnow, has it?
Two weeks ago, Penguins General Manager Jim Rutherford told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he has not been told Sprong is ready. “Billy (Guerin) has been working with him along with the coaching staff there,” Rutherford said.
The professionals are paid to know when a player can compete at the next level. Does anyone believe the Penguins are holding Sprong in the AHL for financial reasons, or any other self-serving reason?
Of course not. And, if the Penguins call Sprong to the show too soon, they risk damage to his development.
Right now, in blunt terms, Sprong floats. He does not attack the puck often enough. He loses his position, which creates open ice. Unfortunately, the gaffes are not slight; they are exaggerated. When looking for Casey DeSmith highlights for Pittsburgh Hockey Now TV show, we stumbled across these “highlights.”
Watch Sprong float past the play. Andrey Pedan was knocked to the ice, got up and was on the puck as Sprong watched–notice Sprong’s head as he puck-watched. Sprong drifted to the corner as the play went the other way. In the NHL, the other team would have an odd-man break.
Here is a bit more complicated play, as Sprong made a couple of mistakes. Watch it a couple of times.
First, Sprong coasted to the wall. By leaving his position, he must play the puck, but he did not display professional motivation to do so. He compounded his lackadaisical play when he chased the puck along the wall instead of re-establishing his position. Of course, Sprong’s man was the recipient of a great scoring chance in the space Sprong should have occupied.
Highlights courtesy of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Daniel Sprong Standard
Even for gifted offensive players, those plays are well below the NHL standard. Daniel Sprong’s game has a long way to go before he is more than a liability on NHL ice.
This season, Sprong has not been productive at even strength. Seven of his 12 goals have been with the man advantage. To bolster the argument, he was a healthy scratch 10 days ago.
A player who is a healthy scratch is not beating down the door to the next level.
Sprong has tremendous physical talents, a nasty wrist shot and a sturdy frame. The Penguins have plenty of talent to mold. However, advocating for his recall is to incorrectly hope the deep flaws which still exist in Sprong’s game aren’t exacerbated by better competition.
He would not be an asset. If you still want to advocate for his recall to the NHL, please re-watch the highlights above.
Daniel Sprong will likely be an NHL player for a long time. In fact, as soon as he reduces the severity and frequency of his gaffes, he will get the chance. But, until he sands the edges from his game, he isn’t an NHL player.