The Washington Capitals are the oldest team in the NHL this season. The team is contending for a championship and has chosen not to develop any young forward or defense prospects at the NHL level this season. Journeyman Daniel Sprong, despite those headwinds, is making his case on why he should be an everyday player in the lineup – even after Tom Wilson returns from suspension next week.
Sprong is producing at a high level offensively despite having limited chances and being the youngest skater on the Capitals roster this season at age 23.
— RMNB (@russianmachine) January 27, 2021
To understand Sprong, you must understand his backstory. Born in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Sprong and his family moved to Canada at a young age after he competed in several Canadian tournaments.
“I think I was six or seven years old when I played a hockey game for my Dutch team in Canada,” Sprong, then 17, said to Sportsnet. “Me and my family just fell in love with [the country].”
Sprong would go on to play four seasons of junior hockey with the QMJHL Charlottetown Islanders, scoring 117 goals in 199 games (.58 goals per game). He was projected to be a first-round pick and described by scouts as “absolutely electric.”
“Daniel’s got that pedigree,” Grant Stonier, general manager of the Charlottetown Islanders, said. “It’s more than puck skills. It’s more than just his skating. He loves the game. He wears everything on his sleeves. He talks hockey all the time. He studies hockey. That’s why he’s rated as high as he’s rated in this upcoming NHL Draft. I’d like him to be a kid a little bit. It’s okay to want to get somewhere. To have a plan and a goal, I love that about Daniel. We’re constantly just telling him to relax.”
Sprong, however, would fall to the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft, where the Pittsburgh Penguins snatched him up with the 46th overall pick.
Die by the Blade listed some of the reasons why:
So what’s wrong with him is the real question, when he’s sitting towards the end of the first round in most rankings and mock drafts. He’s got some size, but he’s not physical. His defensive abilities are lacking. He’s got the raw talent, but started off this season slow and there are worries about his ability to deal with pressure.
As did ISS:
Daniel Sprong (Charlottetown, QMJHL) – His combination of skills/skating ability/goal scoring would ordinarily make him a 1st round talent. However, his compete level when he doesn’t have the puck on his stick is frequently non-existent.
Two years later, Sprong would get his first taste of professional hockey in both the AHL and NHL as a teammate of Sidney Crosby. The forward scored 65 points (32g, 33a) in 65 games for the AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins during the 2017-18 season and dazzled at times in Steel City. Sprong scored two goals in eight games for the Penguins. On one of his tallies, he used Crosby as a decoy, showing incredible confidence in his ability.
During the 2018-19 season, Sprong made the Penguins out of training camp but was traded to the Anaheim Ducks early in the season for defenseman Marcus Pettersson. Sprong rumoredly having a falling out with head coach Mike Sullivan. The forward did not score a goal in 16 games for the Penguins that season — a big deal when a bottom-six player doesn’t penalty kill — and never received more than 12 minutes in a game. Sprong was surpassed in the lineup by Dominik Simon, Zach Aston-Reese, Bryan Rust, and Derek Grant.
“I just think given the circumstances and how the situation has evolved, when you look at the team that we have and the opportunities that have been presented to players, they’ve earned their spots,” Sullivan said to the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette. “They’ve earned their way onto the roster. They’ve earned their playing time.”
Sprong was put on a line with Nick Ritchie and Adam Henrique and scored in his first game against the Blackhawks.
Sprong would score 14 goals in 47 games for the Ducks, seemingly locking down a roster spot for years to come in Anaheim. But again, he did not stick. Sprong was sent to the AHL early during the 2019-20 season. He spent nearly all year with the San Diego Gulls (27 points in 39 games) before getting another opportunity.
The Washington Capitals acquired Sprong at the NHL trade deadline for beloved Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Christian Djoos. Sprong immediately impressed Washington brass. He posted five points in five games for Hershey and played his way onto the Caps’ 2020 bubble roster as a reserve. He then made the Capitals out of training camp for the 2021 season and competed for ice time with offseason signing Conor Sheary.
So far this season, Sprong has scored six goals in 17 games, including three goals in his last four. On Sprong’s goals, he’s shown off both an incredibly accurate and hard shot and a nose for the net.
He even used Alex Ovechkin as a decoy on a two-on-one break. Sound familiar?
Sprong got back into the lineup full time in early March after Wilson’s suspension and has primarily played with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana – players with generally the same strengths and weaknesses.
“I thought [Sprong] was playing really well. We haven’t seen him in a little bit but that’s not necessarily a fault of his,” Laviolette said on March 7. “We’ve just been caught with numbers that are on our side. He now gets a chance to draw back into the lineup. He’s playing with Vrana and Kuznetsov. I think it was maybe Game 4. They were together as a line. They were really good. We’re going to put that line together because they were a good line before.”
Sprong currently sits third in the NHL in goals per 60 at 5v5 (2.21), but still has improving to do judging by his usage. Sprong has not seen much ice time late in games and recently got benched for a turnover in the defensive zone against the Flyers.
Daniel Sprong is now 3rd in the entire NHL in goals per 60 minutes at 5on5 with 2.21
— JJ Regan (@JJReganNBCS) March 16, 2021
“It’s a good opportunity,” Sprong said. “It’s not how you picture your opportunity. Willy shouldn’t of been suspended seven games. That happened. Just gotta move forward. We’re going to try to put some wins together. It’s an opportunity, but it’s an opportunity for everyone.”
It’s unclear what the Capitals will do with Sprong down the stretch, and if he’ll remain the team’s 13th forward. But his recent hot stretch will be hard to ignore. Perhaps more seasoning could further smooth out the rough edges?
That's six goals in 17 games so far for Sprong this season. Over a full 82 game schedule at that pace, you'd be looking at almost 29 goals.
Pretty great value for a player the Caps have under contract through 2022 for $725,000. https://t.co/ZJmQUPUuRD
— RMNB (@russianmachine) March 16, 2021
RMNB is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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