The Pittsburgh Penguins are not leaving winger Daniel Sprong to his own devices. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan told reporters Sunday the coaching staff is working with Sprong on a myriad of details in his game in hopes they can help him finally tap into the scoring winger for whom Penguins fans have been waiting with baited breath.
“We don’t preach it to you guys (the media), but we talk to Daniel almost daily about his overall game,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “His scoring ability is evident. His ability to shoot the puck is evident. That jumps out at all of us.”
It’s the things which don’t jump out at everyone which has kept Sprong from staking claim to a top-six winger position, or even an NHL sweater.
“On both sides of the puck. With a better understanding of how to support the puck. Get involved in the forecheck,” Sullivan said. “And defensively, his awareness away from the puck. His wall play. All of those little things that are hard to quantify but add up to winning.”
The Penguins have put Sprong in a prime position both in training camp and in the preseason. Sprong has skated on Sidney Crosby’s right wing. It’s a tantalizing move which naturally begs the question of “what if?”
What if Sprong clicks with Crosby. What if he finally gets it and provides the Penguins the defensive presence they demand, in addition to the offensive potential.
Sprong has one assist in three preseason games and five shots on goal. Neither total will make the coach’s heart warm unless he improves on the defensive side, too. Penguins assistant coach Mark Recchi gently called out Sprong after the first preseason game.
He hasn’t stood out like we would hope right now, but we gotta keep working with him, keep getting him games, keep getting him comfortable here. He’s a good young player, and we expect more,” said Recchi.
Sprong was goalless in seven of his eight NHL games last season. He had a pair in a February game against the New York Islanders but otherwise did not light the lamp.
Sprong is in the lineup for the fourth preseason game, as is Crosby. (Correction: Neither Crosby nor Sprong will not play in preseason Game 4). The Penguins expect to continue to put Sprong beside the best player in the world and one of the best two-way players in hopes the work ethic and habits rub off.
As of now, the coaches will continue talking to Sprong, even if they don’t tell us.