Penguins notebook: Patience needed with Daniel Sprong
RALEIGH, N.C. — When the Penguins call up a winger from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, like they did when they promoted Dominik Simon earlier this month or Garrett Wilson on Thursday, a portion of the team's fanbase raises a reasonable question.
Why not Daniel Sprong?
The organization's top prospect, Sprong had a hat trick and added an assist in a 5-1 Wilkes-Barre win over Hartford on Friday night. He's second in the AHL with 18 goals in 29 games this season.
The Penguins are 17th in the NHL with an average of 2.82 goals per game.
Wouldn't it be a perfect marriage at this point?
Coach Mike Sullivan is preaching patience, however.
“Daniel's a guy that obviously has the ability score goals,” Sullivan said. “There are other aspects of his game that he's continuing to try to work on in order for him to become a more complete player, so that when he does become a Pittsburgh Penguin, he has the ability to make a positive impact.”
While Sprong's shot and puck skills are already NHL caliber, he sometimes struggles with decision making, defense and even-strength production.
Sullivan said he trusts the coaching staff in Wilkes-Barre and assistant general manager Bill Guerin to evaluate Sprong's progress in potential problem areas.
“The question I always ask is, ‘Which guys are going to help our team win right now?'” Sullivan said. “Based on that conversation, we have the discussion and people make their recommendations, but we rely and trust the guys that are in the positions that see these guys every day.”
With Chad Ruhwedel (upper body), Kris Letang (lower body) and Justin Schultz (lower body) out with injuries, Frankie Corrado played his fourth NHL game of the season Friday night, serving as the team's only right-handed defenseman.
In the past, it's a situation that might have left Corrado a bundle of nerves.
Take last season in Toronto for example. The Leafs didn't want to risk losing Corrado on waivers, but they didn't have a spot for him in the lineup either. As a result, he wwas a healthy scratch for the first 14 games, played once, then was a healthy scratch for 26 more games. A social media campaign began, urging the team to “Free Corrado.”
On the rare occasions he played, he was too amped up.
“It might have been a little too much pressure coming into the lineup,” Corrado said. “People make too big a deal out of it.”
Now 24, with 75 NHL and 162 AHL games under his belt, Corrado thinks he has a healthier mental approach to the game.
“If you have a bad game, a bad night, I've had all the bad nights,” Corrado said. “You've been through it. You survive it. It's nice to put all that behind you and just take it one game at a time, one day at a time. Whatever happens happens. It's not going to kill you.”
In the Penguins locker room before morning skate, television analyst Bob Errey stopped by Simon's locker and wished him well.
Why? Simon is now in possession of Errey's old number.
On Thursday, Simon switched from No. 49 to No. 12 to give newly acquired 36-year-old goalie Michael Leighton his preferred number. Leighton is currently out with a lower-body injury in Wilkes-Barre, but is a call-up option moving forward.
“He's a veteran,” Simon said. “He's been around for much more years than me. So I kind of had to do it, and had no problem doing it.”
Simon wore No. 94 back home in the Czech Republic, before switching the digits when he came to North America. His reason for his original number choice might make longtime fans feel old.
“I was born that year,” Simon said.