The saltiness in Daniel Sprong’s words was abundantly clear when the Anaheim Ducks visited Pittsburgh not long after the Dec. 8 trade in which the Pittsburgh Penguins dealt their fading prospect to Anaheim in exchange for depth defenseman Marcus Pettersson. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan left Sprong to languish on the Penguins fourth line or in their press box, which were hardly the places the player believed he deserved to be stashed.
In his return with Anaheim, Sprong talked about his legs getting stiff on the bench because he sat for such long periods and about not getting enough ice time to atone for mistakes in Pittsburgh. (Watch the full December video here)
New Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Marcus Pettersson didn’t have that problem. Not from the first moment and not in the end.
It was the perfect trade. Anaheim had a glut of defensemen and a decimated forwards crew. The Penguins were a mess on all fronts but especially their blue line without Justin Schultz.
Pettersson was the tonic which first stabilized the Penguins defense. For nearly three months, he played to the left side of Jack Johnson, who was still confined to the right side but Johnson’s play was markedly better beside the steady, puck-moving Pettersson.
Johnson was worlds better with Pettersson, whose pillowy-soft passes also alleviated the intense forecheck pressure Johnson had been under with other defensive partners Olli Maatta and Jamie Oleksiak. The link above is for the full video review of Pettersson.
Pettersson paid immediate dividends as we noted in late December.
Sprong scored a goal during his first game with Anaheim and scored a pair of goals four games later for three goals in his first five games.
However, Sprong cooled and predictably struggled with defensive assignments while Pettersson became a staple of the Penguins blue line. By mid-February, Sprong’s ice time fluctuated as Pettersson began adding points, too.
Overall, Sprong finished with 23 points including 14 goals. With the Ducks, Sprong potted 19 points (14g, 5a). Pettersson, who wasn’t thought to possess much offense, finished with 25 points including 19 points (2g, 17a) as a Penguin.
Interim Anaheim head coach Bob Murray, who is also the GM, limited Sprong to 47 games because of four healthy scratches. So, by the end of the season, Murray had also banished Sprong to the team’s fourth line and press box, too.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Sprong’s development still has a long way to go.
The offensive point totals are striking. Pettersson, a defensive defenseman outscored the offensive forward Sprong this season. That doesn’t just speak volumes, it closes the book. Daniel Sprong may grow into a top line sniper, just as Marcus Pettersson may grow into a top-four defender with puck-moving ability and shutdown senses.
Based on the results of each player’s first exposure to a prominent role, Pettersson is far more likely to reach that ceiling than Sprong. Anaheim was not an analytics powerhouse either, so to cite those wouldn’t be fair to Sprong as the team was generally negative, too. Sprong was almost perfectly aligned with his team’s puck possession numbers at 47%, though his scoring chance rate was lower at 42%.
Yes, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford won this trade going away. Pettersson may not grow into a top-four defenseman but his work with both Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson elevated everyone’s game and buoyed the Penguins defensive corps as Sprong slipped into a press box or fourth line role.
Sprong ended where he began and Pettersson ended in a much better spot.
While there may have been some disagreement between Rutherford and head coach Mike Sullivan about Sprong’s place with the Penguins or in the NHL, the end result was unmistakable.