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Penguins notebook: Competitiveness among Daniel Sprong's best attributes

Jonathan Bombulie
| Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, 1:24 p.m.
The Penguins' Daniel Sprong plays against the Sabres Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017 at Pegula Ice Arena in State College.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Daniel Sprong plays against the Sabres Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017 at Pegula Ice Arena in State College.

DETROIT — There was a lot of attention paid to top prospect Daniel Sprong's dangerous, accurate shot as he made his NHL season debut Sunday night against the Detroit Red Wings.

Another of Sprong's attributes, however — competitiveness — might explain how the 20-year-old winger earned himself a spot in the lineup in the first place.

The Penguins made a round of call-ups Friday morning, and Sprong wasn't one of them. He proceeded to go out and record a hat trick for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton that night. He was called up the next morning.

Sprong played it cool after morning skate Sunday, saying he didn't use the snub as motivation.

“I always want to play good games,” Sprong said. “Every game's important. Someone's always watching. (Adam) Johnson made two good plays for the first two goals. I was just in the right spot and had a chance to put them in. We played well as a team that game, and I just got the bounces my way.”

Coach Mike Sullivan wasn't necessarily buying that line.

“All these guys are competitive guys. They want to play in the NHL,” Sullivan said. “When a player gets called up, and if you're not that guy, you want to do everything in your power to try to be that guy the next time that opportunity presents itself. I'm sure that was Daniel's competitive nature.

“We're hoping he can bring that competitiveness to our team. Certainly, he's a very good player. We all have high expectations. Our hope is we can continue to grow his game.”

Left-hand man

Sprong hasn't played with a regular center in Wilkes-Barre this season, with Gage Quinney, Colin Smith and Greg McKegg taking turns in the spot. He has, however, usually played on a line with left wing Garrett Wilson.

It's an effective pairing, with Wilson, a steady power forward type in his seventh pro season, digging pucks out and Sprong, a dynamic shooter, finding open spaces.

“He's really good with the battles,” Sprong said. “We have some good chemistry.”

Sprong credited Wilson and fellow veteran Tom Sestito with helping him with the mental side of the game while in the minors. He said he was glad he and Wilson got their first NHL call-ups of the season at roughly the same time.

“It's fun seeing him up here,” Sprong said. “He's a guy that really helped me out.”

Daley reflects

When defenseman Trevor Daley was traded from the Blackhawks to the Penguins in December 2015, he looked at the move in favorable light. He wasn't playing many minutes in Chicago, and he figured he would in Pittsburgh.

He never could have imagined the impact the trade would have on his career.

On Sunday night, he faced his old team for the first time after winning two Stanley Cup championships in black and gold.

“Going to Pittsburgh, I think I landed there at the right time,” Daley said. “I think everybody was looking for a fresh start there with Sully coming in and some new faces there. I got to go to a situation where everybody was embracing a fresh start. Looking back on it, it actually worked.”

Injury report

Matt Murray made his return to the lineup after missing one game with an upper-body injury. Evgeni Malkin, who missed Saturday's practice with an illness, also played against the Red Wings.

Injured defensemen Kris Letang and Justin Schultz participated in morning skate but were not expected to return to the lineup Sunday night.

It was Letang's first practice with teammates since suffering a lower-body injury Dec. 23. He declined to speak with reporters afterward.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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