It was December 19th. Daniel Sprong, one of the Penguins’ brightest future prospects, was sent back down to his QMJHL team, the Charlettetown Islanders. In his 18 games with the Penguins, Daniel Sprong scored 2 goals, had no assists, and was a -1.
One of the biggest criticisms of Sprong is that he has not quite developed a solid defensive game yet, which led to him playing somewhere between 4 and 7 minutes per game on the fourth line.
So yeah, Daniel Sprong’s defensive game is not spectacular, but I do not think it ever will be. He can and will get better and has to be more responsible in the defensive zone, there’s no doubt about it, but the Penguins need to accept that Sprong isn’t going to be winning any Selke Trophies any time soon.
Since Daniel Sprong’s return to the QMJHL, he has posted 15 goals and 29 assists, which is good for 44 points in only 31 games. This would give him his best points per game total, 1.42 PPG, since he started playing in the QMJHL. During his previous 2 years he posted 1.01 points per game and 1.29 points per game respectively. This may be in the QMJHL, but the stats don’t lie. He is posting impressive numbers.
Daniel Sprong may not be the most sensational defensive forward out there, but boy is he gifted offensively. He has a fantastic release, super quick hands, is a fast skater, and can pass the puck too. But the difference is that he was a constant healthy scratch, played on the 4th line, and barely got to play at all.
So you’re probably asking “what difference? You said the difference is…The difference between what?”
Phil Kessel was brought to the Penguins to score goals and provide offense. Many believed, including myself, that Kessel could easily post 40+ goals being that he was a lock to play with either Crosby or Malkin. Although Penguins’ fans did set high expectations, I do think Kessel has absolutely under-performed as a whole.
In 70 games, Kessel has 21 goals and 27 assists, giving him 47 points. This is not an awful output, but from a guy like Kessel playing with guys like Malkin and Crosby, it should be higher. Also, he has been insanely inconsistent. Although he just had a goal and an assist last night against the Hurricanes, he scored his first goal in 8 games (and his previous goal was an EN goal), and often follows performances up like these with a dud. That being said, I want him to prove me wrong, and gosh darn it I hope he does against Philly tomorrow.
Similar to Sprong, Phil Kessel is not any threat defensively. Currently, Phil Kessel is a +2 for the Penguins. His only other season he was a “plus player” was 2008-2009 with Boston when he posted a +23. That being said, Phil Kessel was not brought here to play defense: he was brought here to score goals.
Kessel has not left Crosby or Malkin’s side for the most part. And, well, he’s Phil Kessel. It doesn’t make much sense to move him down to the 3rd or 4th line. He has been kept on the first PP unit until only recently, despite not shooting as often as he should or scoring for that matter.
Meanwhile, Daniel Sprong never had any legitimate chances to play with Crosby or Malkin because the coaches felt he was a liability. Then, when it came time for power plays, which is where Sprong would be extremely effective on the right side, the coaching staff still did not use Sprong, and continues to use guys like Kessel and, at the time, Perron.
It should also be noted that Sprong not only did not get these opportunities, but he played almost all of his game under Mike Johnston’s system. He played only 2 games under Sullivan, which were within that 0-4 start when Sullivan was hired. Now, the Penguins have an identity, and for me, Daniel Sprong fits right in.
So, although I am not advocating for Sprong to play over Kessel, my argument is this: if Kessel gets a chance on the top PP, and a chance to play with Malkin and Crosby, why not let Sprong have his chance next year?
Kessel hasn’t been “demoted” due to his lack of defense. Rather, the coaching staff feels he can score, and so they give him his chances. Okay, fair. So give Sprong a chance.
Kessel, until recently, continued to be put on the top PP unit despite his lack of quality shots and goals. But the coaching staff felt he would turn around. Again, fair. So why not let Sprong, who is often selfish with the puck (in the best sense of the word), a chance with the top PP, or at least one of the power play units?
Let Sprong do what he does best and provide offense. Sprong is only 19, and will only be getting better, but the Penguins need to give him a chance to do so in the top 6 if they want him to develop correctly.