IRVINE, Calif. -- Sitting inside the locker room before making his way onto the ice for training camp, Daniel Sprong took in a long, controlled breath. A smile crept across his normally stoic face, and his body loosened. This is home now.
Sprong found happiness in Anaheim after coming over via trade last December, and he's out to prove that last year's breakthrough run with the Ducks was just the beginning.
Still just 22 years of age, Sprong never really found a groove with the Pittsburgh Penguins - the organization that selected him in the second round (46th overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft. But a fresh start with the Ducks saw him tally 14 goals (19 points) in 47 games. He had four goals in 42 career games with the Penguins before the trade.
The 2018-19 campaign was his first full NHL season, and one that proved to be a big learning experience. "Last year was a struggle for me in Pittsburgh, but coming here and playing a lot, I got the confidence in my game," he says, skating on a line today with Isac Lundestrom and Devin Shore. "The older guys really helped me out by taking me under their wing. They really comforted me. It was really my first year playing a full season in the NHL. I learned a lot from the ups and downs, and how to handle them mentally. That really helped me with my summer training. I'm ready for a big season."
Like his teammates, Sprong says there's just something different about this team these days. Maybe the new practice facility at Great Park Ice in Irvine has something to do with it, or a new head coach (Dallas Eakins). Whatever it is, it's given the team new energy.
"We're all excited for a fresh start with a new coach coming in," Sprong says. "We had a really good conversation on the phone. Just excited to be here and have a good camp. Be ready for the season. Like [Jakob Silfverberg] said [in this piece earlier this week], we're all excited and ready to go. It's been a long summer."
Although training camp has just begun, Sprong says there's a belief inside the locker room that this team can do great things. He smirks when he's reminded of where many experts predict the Ducks in the standings this season.
"I don't think many experts expected St. Louis to win the Stanley Cup, either," Sprong says. "We know what we have in this locker room. We know what we have as a team. We're excited. We all have high hopes for each other. We're going to push each other to the limits."
With the regular season on the horizon, Sprong is readying himself for preseason and ultimately the Oct. 3 opener vs. Arizona.
"There are a lot of things that go on in the season, so we're going to need a lot of guys," he says. "We're going to need everyone ready for camp. When the season starts, we're going to need all the guys going and being on the same page. We're a team, and we fight with one another."