|The Red Wings hope that prospect Ryan Sproul can be among the next great defensemen for the parent club. (Photo by Getty Images)
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Detroit Red Wings prospect Ryan Sproul knows opportunity is knocking after a productive rookie season in the American Hockey League with the Grand Rapids Griffins last season.
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound defenseman, selected in the second round (No. 55) of the 2011 NHL Draft, has been one of Detroit's most impressive players on the back end in the Traverse City Prospect Tournament this week.
"He's big, mobile, can handle the puck and has a rocket for the shot," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "He capped off a very good junior career [in 2012-13] by winning defenseman of the year in the Canadian Hockey League and then had a nice rookie year in Grand Rapids."
Grand Rapids coach Jeff Blashill, who is coaching the prospects in Traverse City, feels Sproul might be close to earning a full-time spot with the big club. But he feels the same way about a few other players, including another participant in this year's tournament, Mattias Backman (fifth round, No. 146, 2011).
"He's done a good job in trusting his feet and gapping up the ice, taking away the other team's time and space and as a result creating a lot of transition for us," Blashill said of Sproul. "I think there's no question he's close [to becoming an NHL regular] with a number of other guys who played for me last year. It's a great competition. I think the learning process for Ryan has been big in a sense that he was able get away with a lot in major junior because of his skill set and now he has to learn different things defensively."
Holland believes Sproul's development is certainly on the right track. The offensive-minded defenseman had 11 goals and 32 points in 72 games for the Griffins in 2013-14. He totaled 57 goals and 153 points in 172 career games for the Sioux Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the Ontario Hockey League.
"[Blashill] has done a nice job helping Ryan work on the defensive side of the puck," Holland said. "When you turn pro its harder to get points; this is a 3-2 League. As a defenseman, if you make a mistake it leads to a scoring chance and if you get enough scoring chances in the NHL today they will end up in your net. I don't care how good your goaltending might be."
Sproul is determined to incorporate the advice he's received from his coaches in an effort to impress at Red Wings camp later this week.
"It was a huge transition coming from junior, especially as offensive minded as I am and needing to learn the defensive stuff and learn how to play a full-rounded game," Sproul said. "For me, I think I did OK. Jeff Blashill and Jim Paek did a great job with me.
"Now my goal is to make the Wings and not just, 'Can I get a couple of games in.' I want to make the Wings and want a steady spot on the roster."