This is part of Pittsburgh Penguins day at PHT…
Daniel Sprong was stuck in a difficult position during the 2015-16 season.
He ended up being just one of eight players from the 2015 draft to play in the NHL, spending the first two months of the season in Pittsburgh after earning a spot on the roster thanks to an impressive training camp and preseason performance. But once there the Penguins really didn’t seem to know what to do with him. He showed flashes of the talent that earned him a spot on the roster, but it was also clear that his play away from the puck needed work and that he never completely had the trust of then-coach Mike Johnston.
If he was not a healthy scratch, he was only playing limited minutes.
But because he was only 18 years old, he was not eligible to play in the American Hockey League during the regular season due to the AHL-CHL transfer agreement.
That meant if he wasn’t going to play in Pittsburgh, a league that was probably a little too advanced for him at the time, he had to return to the QMJHL to play for his junior team, the Charlottetown Islanders, in a league that he was probably too good for. It’s an agreement that works great for the CHL, but doesn’t really give prospects the best chance to develop that season because their only options are a league where they are overmatched or a league where they are probably the best player on the ice every time they go over the boards.
Eventually, the Penguins were left with little choice and did in fact return him to the Q where he, quite predictably, dominated the competition and recorded 46 points in 33 games.
At the conclusion of Charlottetown’s season, he was able to play for the Penguins’ AHL team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the playoffs where he scored five goals and added two assists in only 10 games.
The problem he is going to face this season two-fold. First, he is recovering from shoulder surgery that will keep him out of the lineup until January or February. That doesn’t necessarily eliminate him from contributing this season. It just delays it.
The second is that the Penguins’ forward group is already mostly locked in at the start as they are returning everybody from their Stanley Cup winning roster, which is going to make things tight for somebody new to break into the lineup.
But Sprong is still clearly the team’s best forward prospect at the moment and one of the few players in the system that seems to have top-six potential. Whether it’s through his own play forcing his way into NHL action or an injury, he should have an opportunity — once he has recovered — to be a factor at some point this season.