The Pittsburgh Penguins are going to have a very tough decision to make. Do they keep the 18-year old rookie Daniel Sprong in the NHL after the first ten games or do they send him back down to the juniors? It’s very rare that an 18-year old makes an NHL roster and even more uncommon that they stay all 82 games with a team.
However, Sprong looks to be in that very small minority. Through five games played, Sprong has scored just one goal. But what makes this mark even more impressive is the lack of ice time he has been given. He has averaged 10:19 of ice time per contest and is usually played in a limited role on the fourth line next to center Matt Cullen and Bobby Farnham or Kevin Porter.
For an offensively gifted young wing, it’s not exactly a great opportunity to have success. Despite his lack of ice time and offensively inept linemates, Sprong has attempted 26 shots on goal, or 5.2 per game. Of those 26, only nine were actually credited being on goal.
Sprong’s Impact on the Penguins
Sprong’s possession statistics aren’t great, but considering his linemates and how he is being utilized, it’s understandable. In five games, Sprong has a corsi for of 48.8% which is a -4.9% relative to the team. These numbers while useful, do not tell the whole story. This is a case where advanced statistics tell part of the story, but no where near the entire thing.
When the Penguins offensive was struggling during the first three games of the season, Sprong was one of their most effective forwards. He could always be counted on to generate offensive chances, despite his linemates and his play has continually improved.
Last night the Penguins defeated the surprisingly good Florida Panthers 3-2 and it was the first game that Sprong was missing from the lineup. His absence was very noticeable in their bottom six. Pittsburgh won against Florida on the backs of their superstar core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang.
There was very little support from the fourth line and the third line was better, but far from a legitimate threat. Sprong was not a healthy scratch last night, instead he was stuck in Canada due to issues with his work visa.
Sprong is in Canada getting an extension on his visa…and he will return to Pittsburgh, but not in time for the game. -DP
— AT&T SportsNet™ PIT (@ATTSportsNetPIT) October 20, 2015
It’s highly unlikely that Sprong would work to get an extension on his visa for just five games. Penguins management must have seen a lot from Sprong and this extension could be enough to keep him in Pittsburgh for the season.
If you haven’t seen what he can bring to the ice just take a look at this.
— Dad Chad (@madchad412) October 16, 2015
While Sprong is incredibly gifted offensively, he’s far from a finished product. There are a lot of concerns with his play away from the puck, his small frame and lack of strength. However, this is something that Pittsburgh’s management needs to keep a close eye on.
They publicly admitted to making a mistake on another young player’s development named Beau Bennett.
Sprong is the first forward prospect in a long time that the Penguins management has a legitimate reason to be excited about. It’s not easy for coaches to teach players how to play offense and that’s where Sprong’s game is already strong. Honing defensive play and bulking up are relatively easy compared to teaching a player how to score.
From what I’ve seen, Sprong deserves to stay for the full season, despite the loss of a year on his entry-level contract. We’ve seen that his offensive game is NHL ready and another year in the juniors likely will not aid his development. Give him a chance to play in the top hockey league in the world and you’ll probably see a more well rounded player at the end of the season.
Daniel Sprong can help the Penguins, and he can help them right now. But if Pittsburgh wants to seriously keep Sprong with the team, give him more ice time and potentially move him up the roster to put him in a position to showcase his offensive talents.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave your comments below or tweet me anytime @MPityk
Michael Pityk is an analyst who has written for numerous sites since beginning his professional career. He’s acted as a credentialed member of the media for the Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Penguins. His work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, The Sports Journal, MSN, PensLabyrinth, Montreal Hockey Talk, ESPN Pittsburgh, The Hockey Writers, Todays SlapShot and The Bleacher Report. He formerly was the editor of Pens Labyrinth and an analyst for The Sports Journal. Michael presently acts as an NHL Analyst for The Hockey Writers