Penguins trade Daniel Sprong to Anaheim for defenseman Marcus Pettersson
When he traded winger Daniel Sprong to the Anaheim Ducks for defenseman Marcus Pettersson on Monday, Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford realized full well the risk he was taking.
There’s a chance Sprong could develop into the rarest of commodities – a dangerous goal scorer – in someone else’s uniform.
For a number of reasons, it was a gamble Rutherford was willing to take.
“We all recognize Daniel could get his game going and score, which is what he does best, but I just felt, where it was going here, when we had a chance to get a good, young player, we should do it,” Rutherford said.
To understand Rutherford’s rationale, it’s necessary to retrace the steps Sprong took to get to this point.
A second-round pick in the 2015 draft, Sprong turned in a goal-per-game season in juniors two years ago and a point-per-game season in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last year. He was the organization’s top goal-scoring prospect by leaps and bounds.
Because he played 18 NHL games as an 18-year-old, thus starting his waiver clock early, he came into this season practically guaranteed a roster spot. If the Penguins tried to send him to the AHL, he surely would have been claimed.
Because of his style of play, though, he had to claim a spot among the top nine forwards to be truly effective.
“(Coach Mike Sullivan) put him with (Sidney Crosby) for a few preseason games to get it kick-started, do what he does best, get a goal or two,” Rutherford said. “By the time the start of the season came, he didn’t make it into the top nine.”
Sprong played some on the fourth line, recording no goals and four assists in 16 games, but that wasn’t going to work long term. With Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, Dominik Simon and Bryan Rust ahead of him on the depth chart at right wing, it was hard to see how the situation would resolve itself.
Rutherford could have demanded his coach play Sprong in the top nine, but that’s an option he never considered.
“That very seldom or never works out when you cross that line and start telling people how to do their jobs,” Rutherford said. “From my observations, I believe that Sully and his coaching staff worked hard, recognizing what the upside of this player was, to give him the opportunity. For whatever reason, it didn’t work out with Daniel this year.
“He didn’t make that transition from the American League to the NHL and continue scoring. You wouldn’t expect him to come in, as young as he is, and light it up. But you expect to see signs of getting a lot of scoring chances or getting the odd goal, and it didn’t come.”
With that, Rutherford decided it was time to move Sprong while he still had value.
And to listen to the GM talk, he had quite a bit of value. Rutherford is high on Pettersson, a 6-foot-3 22-year-old with a giant wingspan and the ability to move the puck. Pettersson has been among Anaheim’s top six defensemen this season, recording no goals, six assists and a plus-4 rating in 27 games.
“I caution everybody that he is young and is still learning the league. You have to be careful where you put these guys in the lineup,” Rutherford said. “But he’s a guy that my projections would be, in the next couple years, he would be a Brian Dumoulin-type player.”
For now, the addition of Pettersson gives the Penguins eight NHL-caliber defensemen, not counting the injured Justin Schultz. Rutherford said he doesn’t see that as a logjam that needs to be alleviated via trade.
“I don’t feel that urgency to do that,” Rutherford said. “We’re trying to find a group that can get some consistency and win. If he can contribute to that, it means somebody will drop out. It’ll just give us more depth at that position.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at email@example.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.