Daniel Sprong #41 of the Pittsburgh Penguins shoot the puck ahead of Shane Doan #19 of the Arizona Coyotes during the first period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on October 10, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)
CRANBERRY TWP. — Daniel Sprong might be just 20 years old, but amongst his peers at the Penguins prospect development camp, he's depended on to be a leader.
On Tuesday night, a day before the development camp started Wednesday at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, that was Mark Recchi's message to Sprong.
“That’s what I told him. I said, ‘you’re here, you’re looking after guys,'" Recchi, the Penguins' director of player development said.
In the development camp, which spans until Saturday, Sprong will be the focal point. He's the Penguins' top prospect, a winger with strong scoring abilities and a polished set of offensive skills. Having not been able to participate in the camp last year due to a shoulder injury he suffered when he joined the Penguins' scout team during their playoff run, he's especially looking forward to this year's camp, with hopes of impressing the Penguins' brass.
“I think it’s a good week just to show how much I matured," Sprong said.
Drafted in the second round in 2015, Sprong made the Penguins roster as an 18 year old, playing 18 games and scoring two goals before being sent down. Since, the Penguins have directed Sprong to improve certain areas of his game, namely his play without the puck offensively. Given his statistics this past season with his junior team, the Charlottetown Islanders of the QHJHL, it appears Sprong has made some strides. In 31 games, Sprong scored 32 goals and 59 points. Just as importantly, he had a plus-29 plus-minus, the first positive plus-minus of his junior career. As Sprong put it, "it was a great year personal-wise."
“I really tried to develop my game one more time before making the step hopefully to the NHL next year full time. I think my plus-minus showed that and I think I worked a lot away from the puck. I worked on a different side of my game," Sprong said. “I think I got a lot better since I was 18. I think I really developed so far really well in what I think of my game.”
Bettering his play defensively has also been a point of emphasis for Sprong, who said he watched Penguins games this season often with an eye on how they played in the defensive zone, with the intention of implementing some of those elements into his game.
“I know what I have to do on that side of the puck," Sprong said.
Since he joined the Penguins organization, Sprong has made a conscious effort to learn from the pros, whether that's been from his couch at home with a game on the TV, or when he was in the locker room with them as a teammate.
“It was a dream come true to make the team when I was 18," Sprong said. “Just seeing those guys work on an everyday basis, how they take care of their bodies and what they do on and off the ice, I think from that I learned a lot and matured a lot."
Now, Sprong is hoping that this development camp will be the start of his path back to the NHL. He said he's looking to primarily show that he can play without the puck well, while also displaying his skill. After that, he'll go to Montreal to train.
"I'm excited to be here and I’m excited to go back home and start working out again," Sprong said. “I’ve still got months to work on my game and define things I want to work on."