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Sprong eager to prove himself in camp

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

As the Pens cleaned out their lockers in early May, general manager Jim Rutherford stood behind a podium to address the media. He covered a variety of topics from the previous season, including free agency to even his own future. 

But lost in the shuffle was his comment on prospect Daniel Sprong's standing with the team for the 2018-19 season. 

"He should be a regular on our team," Rutherford said. "He's a very talented player that will score a lot of goals in this league."

Sprong, the Pens' second-round pick (46th overall) in 2015, did appear in eight games for Pittsburgh last year, registering a two-goal, three-point game at the New York Islanders on Jan. 5. But he spent the bulk of his time in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. 

Sprong, 21, is coming off of his best season of pro hockey with WBS. He led the club in goals (32), assists (33) and points (65) in 65 games. Sprong finished second (tied) in the AHL in goals (one behind league-leader Valentin Zykov) and fifth in points, while being named to the AHL All-Rookie Team and an AHL All-Star. 

"You want to be (in Pittsburgh) and want to play," Sprong said. "But if I look back at it after my season ended I was really happy with my year and how I developed as a player in the A. 

"(WBS head coach Clark Donatelli) and the coaching staff really helped me. I look back and see that was a big part of my development. It really helped me getting ready for this year." 

There's no denying Sprong's offensive acumen. He has a hard, nasty snap shot that jumps off of his stick with velocity from any angle. And Sprong has the goals to show for it. 

With Charlottetown of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League he posted three 30-goals seasons. His final year in 2016-17 saw the Amsterdam, Netherlands native tally 32 goals and 59 points in 31 games, which included four hat tricks and a four-goal, seven-point game. 

But what has been missing from Sprong's game has been at the opposite end of the rink. That's why management preferred that he remain in WBS for the entire year. 

"We were very careful with him this year," Rutherford said in May. "We develop players in different ways. Certainly he had the ability to come in at certain times and play an offensive role on our team. But he needed to work on his all-around game. He did that."

Over the summer, Sprong trained with teammate Kris Letang at Adrenaline Performance Center in Montreal, where Sprong has lived since the age of 7. It was the first summer Sprong could dedicate to making improvements. Last year there was little time due to a shortened offseason with the Stanley Cup victory. Two years ago Sprong had shoulder surgery. 

"This is the real first summer that I really had time to work on everything," Sprong said. "I didn't have to rush through things. I could go through each phase. I was happy with that.

"I put on more muscle and worked on my speed. The last month of summer I really focused on that and getting ready for camp. Just getting ready for the start of the season." 

While management expects Sprong to crack the Penguins' lineup, nothing will be handed to him. It will be up to him to earn his spot. 

"I have to play my game. Make sure I'm responsible defensively and support the puck," Sprong said. "When I get the chance to shoot I have to shoot. Hopefully they go in. 

"It was a positive season last year. Building off of it going into the summer. This season is a new chapter. New things can happen. I'm looking forward to it." 

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