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Penguins

Daniel Sprong proving to be a good fit with Penguins in early stages of call-up

Jonathan Bombulie
| Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, 6:21 p.m.
The Penguins' Daniel Sprong scores his second goal of the game at 13 minutes, 28 seconds of the third period against Jaroslav Halak of the Islanders on Jan. 5, 2018.
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The Penguins' Daniel Sprong scores his second goal of the game at 13 minutes, 28 seconds of the third period against Jaroslav Halak of the Islanders on Jan. 5, 2018.
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 05:  Daniel Sprong #41 of the Pittsburgh Penguins falls to the ice after scoring his second goal of the game at 13:28 of the third period against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on January 5, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 05: Daniel Sprong #41 of the Pittsburgh Penguins falls to the ice after scoring his second goal of the game at 13:28 of the third period against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on January 5, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

After his former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton teammate put up two goals and an assist against the New York Islanders on Friday night, winger Tom Sestito sent congratulations to Daniel Sprong via social media.

“See you at camp next year,” Sestito tweeted.

The AHL heavyweight might have a point.

The top prospect in the Penguins system, Sprong has been as good as advertised in his first four NHL games of the season after being called up last weekend.

Unless Sprong stops by to say farewell while picking up some of his belongings in northeastern Pennsylvania, his time in that part of the state might be done for good, and there are a few reasons for that development.

First, Sprong looks to be maniacally committed to shooting the puck.

He has 17 shots in the four games since his call-up. Second on the team during that span is Patric Hornqvist with 12. No one else is in double digits.

“I try to shoot the puck when I'm in good scenarios,” Sprong said.

He's in good scenarios a lot.

Second, Sprong looks like he's going to be a good fit on Sidney Crosby's wing.

Young players over the years sometimes have struggled in that role, failing to keep up with Crosby's pace or deferring too much to the 30-year-old superstar.

Sprong seems to have enough swagger in his game to make that a moot point.

“It was exciting to play with him,” Sprong said after he, Crosby and Dominik Simon combined for three even-strength goals Friday night. “He made me pretty comfortable out there, and I thought our line played well as a unit.”

Sprong also fits with Crosby tactically.

Crosby is at his best when the puck is on his stick. It stands to reason, then, that he would be complemented by a linemate with a shooter's instincts for setting up in the soft spots of a defense and waiting to strike.

Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary have those instincts. They are on display even more obviously with Sprong.

“I just tried to find open space and try to put myself in a good spot,” Sprong said.

Finally, Sprong's time in the AHL seems to have served him well.

He lived up to his offensive billing, recording 18 goals and 28 points in 29 games this season, earning AHL Rookie of the Month honors for December and being chosen for the league's all-star game in the past week.

He wasn't as consistent a scorer as Guentzel, who had 21 goals and 42 points in 33 AHL games last season, but he wasn't far off.

Just as importantly, Sprong appears to have improved his play away from the puck during his minor-league stay. He hasn't looked out of place on the defensive end of the ice at the NHL level.

“We wish him the best,” Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach Clark Donatelli told The Citizens' Voice. “He came down here and worked his tail off. It wasn't always easy. He went through some hard times.”

It's safe to assume there will be more hard times for Sprong as he establishes himself as a regular NHL player.

His defensive deficiencies could show themselves against top competition. He was a streaky scorer during his AHL days, too, so a cold snap might be right around the corner.

It also might prove tempting for general manager Jim Rutherford to use Sprong as trade bait should he try to land a big fish for a run at a three-peat before the NHL trade deadline at the end of February.

For now, though, Sprong has taken the first few steps toward living up to his potential.

“He's got a great shot and great skill,” Crosby said. “It was nice to see him bury a couple.”

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

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