Mike Halford

Daniel Sprong

Pens announce Sprong out 7-8 months after shoulder surgery

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Pittsburgh will be without one of its brightest young prospects for nearly half of next season — on Friday, the club announced that Daniel Sprong will miss the next 7-8 months recovering from shoulder surgery.

The procedure came after Sprong, 19, was injured while practicing as a Black Ace during Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup run.

Prior to that, he’d embarked on a wild campaign.

Sprong was one of the biggest surprises to come out of Penguins training camp, making the team as an 18-year-old draftee (a second-round pick, no less).

His time in Pittsburgh was tumultuous, though. Sprong only played in 18 games and was a healthy scratch on a number of occasions — decisions that seemed to cause a rift between GM Jim Rutherford and former head coach Mike Johnston.

Rutherford eventually urged Johnston to play Sprong more. But after Johnston was fired and replaced by Mike Sullivan, the decision was made to return Sprong to junior.

It was a contentious decision at the time, given Pittsburgh had already burned the first year of his entry-level contract, though the move ultimately seemed to pay off. Sprong went back to QMJHL Charlottetown and was terrific, scoring 46 points in 33 regular season games, and 15 in 12 playoff outings.

He then made a seamless transition to the American League, racking up five goals and seven points in 10 Calder Cup playoff games for Wilkes-Barre.

Sprong’s sophomore campaign will be a difficult one. The recovery window suggests a January return at the earliest.

Coyotes sign Cunningham to one-year extension

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 16:  Craig Cunningham #22 of the Arizona Coyotes skates against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on November 16, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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New Arizona GM John Chayka made a minor signing on Friday, inking forward Craig Cunningham to a one-year, two-way contract extension.

Cunningham, 25, has been with the Coyotes organization since getting plucked off waivers a year ago. He’s split time between Arizona and the American League — last year, he scored just one point in 10 games with the Coyotes, but racked up 46 in 61 games with Springfield.

A fourth-round pick by the Bruins in 2010, Cunningham will probably spend next season shuttling back and forth between the Coyotes and their new AHL affiliate in Tucson.

Get to know a draft pick — Olli Juolevi

VANCOUVER, BC - JANUARY 28:  Olli Juolevi #4 of Team Orr skates up ice during the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game January 28, 2016 at Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
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Like we’ve done in the past, we’re profiling top prospects who may hear their names called in the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

But this year, something new — we’re featuring special guest analysis from Ryan Kennedy, associate senior writer and prospect expert at The Hockey News.

Olli Juolevi (D)

Height: 6-foot-2 Weight: 182 pounds Shoots: Left

Team: London Knights (OHL)

Country: Finland

NHL Central Scouting ranking: No. 5 North American skater

Kennedy says: “It’s tough to say who the first defenseman to go in the draft will be, but Juolevi is a great candidate (Jakob Chychrun and Mikhail Sergachev are options, too).

“Intelligent, smooth with the puck and blessed with pretty good size, Juolevi models his game after Hampus Lindholm and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Juolevi was an all-star at the world juniors, where he helped the Finns win gold at Hartwall Arena, his dream rink as a kid in Helsinki.

“He also paced the London defense corps to an OHL championship and the Memorial Cup title. Not bad for a kid who was only playing his first season in North America.”

Related: Benning doesn’t know if there’s a true No. 1 defenseman at this year’s draft

Click here for all the 2016 NHL Draft profiles.

Get to know a draft pick — Matthew Tkachuk

SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 06:  Top Prospect Matthew Tkachuk speaks during media availability for the 2016 NHL Draft Top Prospects prior to Game Four of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center on June 6, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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THN Banner

Like we’ve done in the past, we’re profiling top prospects who may hear their names called in the first round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

But this year, something new — we’re featuring special guest analysis from Ryan Kennedy, associate senior writer and prospect expert at The Hockey News.

Matthew Tkachuk (LW)

Height: 6-foot-2 Weight: 200 pounds Shoots: Left

Team: London Knights (OHL)

Country: U.S.

NHL Central Scouting ranking: No. 2 North American skater

Kennedy says: “Other than his explosiveness, there’s really nothing Tkachuk is missing right now. Skating can be worked on, but his natural gifts aren’t found in a lot of other players.

“The son of ex-NHLer Keith Tkachuk has size, smarts, a competitive mean streak and excellent hand-eye coordination that makes him a tip-in machine in front of the net. He scored the overtime winner at the Memorial Cup, and helped Team USA to bronze at the world juniors.

“If he doesn’t go straight to the NHL, he’ll be a buzzsaw – again – in the OHL. Though he’s not really fast, he is strong on his skates and wins battles.”

Related: Tkachuk pumps draft stock, says ‘people want winners’

Click here for all the 2016 NHL Draft profiles.

Agent: Drouin has withdrawn trade request, ‘wants to be back in Tampa’

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 30:  Jonathan Drouin #27 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates his goal against the New York Islanders  during the first period in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 30, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)
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Allan Walsh, the agent for Tampa Bay forward Jonathan Drouin, told ESPN on Thursday that Drouin’s trade request from earlier this season has officially been withdrawn.

“As Jo said at the end of the season, he wants to be back in Tampa next year,” Walsh emailed ESPN. “It’s a tight-knit group, and going forward, he’s happy being part of it.”

Drouin’s mid-season trade request came while on assignment in AHL Syracuse, a situation that eventually led to a team-issued suspension after Drouin failed to report for a Crunch game.

There were widespread rumors Bolts GM Steve Yzerman would move Drouin by the trade deadline but, when a deal wasn’t reached, Yzerman said there was potential for the former No. 3 overall pick to return to the Lightning organization.

Drouin was recalled in early April, and scored goals in both of Tampa Bay’s final two games of the regular season. That proved a foreshadow for the playoffs, where Drouin played exceptionally well and racked up 14 points in 17 games.

Most assumed the reconciliation process had come full circle after Tampa’s elimination in the Eastern Conference Final, when Yzerman said “the best thing for this team is Jonathan Drouin being on it.”

Looking ahead, it’s worth noting that Drouin has one year left on his entry-level deal, meaning this is a pivotal campaign for his next contract — which should be an interesting negotiation between Walsh and Yzerman.