PITTSBURGH — The Daniel Sprong saga in Pittsburgh is over.
The Pittsburgh Penguins traded the struggling prospect with a big shot but lacking overall game to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for 22-year-old left-handed defenseman Marcus Pettersson.
In 46 career NHL games spanning four seasons, Sprong, 21, has nine points (4g, 5a). The Dutch-born winger had four assists this season but no goals. He had become a lightning rod for hockey debate in Pittsburgh as some fans pleaded for him to skate in the Penguins top lines, instead of his typical fourth line role.
Pettersson, 22, has one NHL goal and nine assists in 49 career games. He has six assists and +4 rating in 27 games this season. The Skelleftea, Sweden native was playing on the Ducks third pairing before the trade. He is in his second pro season. Last season, Pettersson split time between Anaheim and their AHL affiliate in San Diego.
Pettersson has a potentially large frame. The defenseman is 6-foot-3, but only 177 pounds.
The trade occurred just a couple hours after Pittsburgh Penguins little-used Sprong noted there was little he could do about not playing much. Sprong,was a second-round draft pick in 2015 but did not find a place in the lineup that worked, or that satisfied the Penguins coaching staff.
In practice Monday, Sprong took some turns on the second line with Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist.
Asked after that how he is dealing with playing so little, Sprong said, “It’s out of my control, you know? That’s the coaching staff’s decision. I can just control what I can control.”
He said he had an opinion on why he’s not playing much, but he declined to make it public.
“Daniel is working hard in practice,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “When you look at some of the line combinations that we have, it makes for very difficult decisions on where certain players fit.”
Penguins Trade Analysis
Call this a home run for Penguins GM Jim Rutherford. It neatly sets up other deals and the removes what had become a distraction. In exchange for a 21-year-old sniper who had not yet sniped, the Penguins got a defenseman with 10 points in 49 games over two seasons and who is still growing into the North American game.
Pettersson was the Ducks second-round choice in 2014 (38th overall). He was not fighting for ice time, unlike Sprong who had done little to earn the trust of coaches or teammates. That is the important part. Sprong had not yet earned trust. He was a long-term project on a team which is out of time.
Sprong’s quip today that he believed he knew why he wasn’t playing but refused to share it is further proof of a widening gulch between Sprong and the coaches. An insider’s take is that Sprong was difficult to coach. On several occasions, Sprong confidently asserted he was doing well, even after coaches sent a different message. There was an obvious disconnect and every step forward was met with a step back.
Pettersson was averaging over 14 minutes of ice time per game, this season.
In the much lower scoring Swedish Elite League, Petterrson put up nine points (2g, 7a) and 49 penalty minutes in 41 games during the 2016-17 season.
Pettersson is a defenseman who has scored as many points as Sprong in nearly the same number of games but has not been subject to the severe ups and downs. Pettersson may fit very well in the Eastern Conference. He is a puck moving defenseman who has some offensive upside, though he hasn’t shown a great deal of that yet in North America.
At worst, the Penguins received a seventh defenseman. The more likely result is the Penguins got younger and with a capable left side defender who makes expendable one of the Penguins higher priced options.
Editors Note: the original story incorrectly listed Pettersson’s career total number of assists as 18. It was corrected.