Daniel Sprong had just finished stocking his refrigerator after a trip to the grocery store when he got word he was traded to the Ducks. With a flight booked later in the evening, Sprong had just enough time to gather his belongings and offer up his recent purchases to his roommates.
"I told the two guys I live with, the fridge is yours," Sprong said today following his first practice with the Ducks. "Grab whatever you want."
It's an exciting time for the 21-year-old right wing, who was in need of a fresh start. He made his NHL debut mere months after the Penguins selected him in the second round (46th overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft and scored his first career NHL goal in his fourth game that season.
But the scoring touch he showed in juniors (117 goals and 261 points in 199 career QMJHL games with Charlottetown) and his 32-goal, 65-point rookie AHL campaign last season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton never carried over with the Penguins. In the weeks before the trade, the dynamic wing with an elite shot played sparingly on the Penguins' fourth line.
"When you play four or five minutes a night, you ask any guy, there's not much you can do sitting on the bench the whole third period," he said. "It's tough to do things. Those are the cards I was dealt. It's a new beginning here. A new opportunity. I'm excited to be here. Can't wait to get going."
It was a quick turnaround for Sprong, whose flight didn't arrive into LAX until after midnight. Despite the lack of sleep, it was apparent on the ice today that Sprong was enjoying his new surroundings. He skated on a line with Nick Ritchie and Adam Henrique, a trio that could be together tomorrow night when the Ducks host the Chicago Blackhawks in the opener of a four-game homestand.
"He's fast," understated Henrique with a laugh. "Practice was good. I'm sure it was good for him to get out there, feel the ice and get through a practice."
Sprong's spot on that line was previously occupied by Ondrej Kase, who moved down to the fourth line today with Kiefer Sherwood and Carter Rowney. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle made it known the change "isn't something cast in stone," referring to his tendency to move wingers up and down the lineup if needed. Carlyle says Sprong could be a fit with Ritchie and Henrique, so for now, he'll see how it goes. "We feel there's a need for some offense in our lineup," said Carlyle. "He's provided offense at the American Hockey League level. In the situation in Pittsburgh, he was kind of squeezed out, if you look at the offensive players they have in their lineup. It's an opportunity for us to add a player we feel can play in our top-9 and provide scoring."
Sprong was greeted by a few familiar faces in the locker room today. He and Rowney were teammates in Pittsburgh, and Sprong says he played against Sherwood in a tournament when they were younger. He will wear No. 11 with the Ducks, a number he's worn since he was a kid.
Here are a few tidbits on the newest Duck:
- Sprong was born in Amsterdam, but moved to Île-Bizard, Quebec with his family when he was seven years old to further his development in hockey.
- During the 2013-14 QMJHL season with Charlottetown, he led the Islanders in all three scoring categories - goals (30), assists (38) and points (68) - en route to earning a spot on the QMJHL All-Rookie Team.
- In his rookie AHL season (2017-18), Sprong was named to the All-Rookie Team and the All-Star Classic. His 32 goals set a new franchise rookie record and tied him for second in goals in the AHL.
- Sprong, who grew up near Montreal, played at the Bell Centre for the first time in his career this past October. In an article published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sprong said the first game he saw there happened to be Saku Koivu's emotional return from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma April 9, 2002.
- In a Q&A posted on the Penguins' website shortly after he was drafted, Sprong lists Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrick Kane as two players he enjoyed watching. "Just the way Kovalchuk shoots the puck, the way he snaps, shoots and skates - I really try to get that from his game," he said. "With Kane, it's the way he stickhandles, plays and the way he passes is something that I want to put in my game so that I'm deceptive and can shoot or pass, but at the same time I still want to be who I am and keep working on that."