Penguins' Sprong responds, scores 1st NHL goal
Daniel Sprong is 18 years old, eager and in the thick of a nine-game tryout to prove he can last in the NHL.
He probably would have played defense Thursday if you'd have asked him. Or without skates.
But with Beau Bennett out of the lineup because an undisclosed injury and a job open, Sprong seized the opportunity. He assumed Bennett's spot to the right of Nick Bonino and scored his first NHL goal in the second period of a 2-0 win over the Ottawa Senators at Consol Energy Center.
“I got an opportunity to show myself, got a couple more minutes,” Sprong said. “When I got those minutes, I just wanted to do my best and try to help the team win. I appreciate the coaching staff and my teammates for believing in me.”
Sprong had four shots on goal in 13 minutes, 7 seconds.
That he scored on a snipe of a shot should not come as a surprise.
Since training camp, Sprong has turned heads with his ability to fire hockey pucks at goaltenders.
Assistant general manager Bill Guerin said Sprong has an “NHL release with how quick it is.”
Even Sidney Crosby commented that Sprong's shot, without a doubt, plays in the NHL.
“That shot tonight was pretty fun to watch,” David Perron said.
But through three games, Sprong would have had to score from the bench to make any sort of tangible impact. He averaged 8:39 of ice time, the least of anyone who had played all three games. In three third periods, with the team regularly chasing leads, Sprong logged just 10 shifts.
His play away from the puck was a factor, coach Mike Johnston said.
That changed Thursday, partly out of necessity and partly because of his performance.
“I've dealt with junior players before, and I still consider him a junior player,” Johnston said. “Those players have to learn responsibilities away from the puck and habits so the coach trusts them.
“I felt he's been coming along in that area. I felt he deserved to bump up a bit. And he responded. He responded with a good, working game.”
Matt Cullen started Sprong's scoring play by entering the zone along the left-wing boards and losing Senators forward Chris Neil along the way. Cullen slid a pass to his right, to Sprong, who whipped a shot past Craig Anderson from the inner-edge of the left circle.
The goal was pretty, but that's what the Penguins know Sprong can do. Having him play such a responsible game was a pleasant surprise, something that will work as a checkmark in Sprong's column when it comes to the decision after nine games to retain Sprong or send him back to junior.
“I like what I see out of him, how competitive he is,” Johnston said. “I still want to see better habits all over the ice, but it's going to come with a young guy. The faster it comes, the better it is for him.”