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Sprong Hoping to Become Next Dutch-born NHL Player

by Mike G. Morreale / Pittsburgh Penguins

Daniel Sprong might have been considered an outsider growing up in Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands.

In a country where most young athletes aspire to become professional soccer players, Sprong had a different passion.

"There was only one hockey rink in Amsterdam; soccer in Amsterdam is like hockey in Canada," Sprong said. "It's very rare that kids in Amsterdam play hockey. When I first started working on fundamentals when I was 4 or 5 years old, I played on a team with 12- and 13-year-old kids."

Sprong woke up every Saturday morning and took the 45-minute drive with his father to the only rink in Amsterdam at the time. He eventually began playing in tournaments and traveling to different parts of Europe and North America and loved every minute of it.

When he turned 7, he had an epiphany.

"There's a six-hour time difference between Canada and Amsterdam, so I woke up one day around 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning to watch the Colorado Avalanche play in the Stanley Cup Final when Patrick Roy was still there [as a player]," Sprong said. "I watched those games and told my dad that night I wanted to be there too one day. Ever since then my dream has been to play in the NHL."

If that dream becomes a reality, he'd be the first hockey player born in the Netherlands to play in the NHL since defenseman Ed Kea of Weesp. Kea played five seasons with the Atlanta Flames (1974-79) and four with the St. Louis Blues (1979-83).

Sprong's father, Hannie, is all for it; he played professionally in Holland in the early 1990s.

To push Daniel forward in his development, the Sprong family moved to Île-Bizard, Quebec, in 2005, and he played in numerous local leagues. Sprong is a graduate of the Deux-Rives hockey program, and had 30 goals and 38 points in 19 games in 2011-12. The following season he broke a franchise record for points (104) set by Tampa Bay Lightning forward Alex Killorn as a member of the Lac St-Louis Tigres Espoir in the Quebec Midget Espoir AA, a prospect league consisting mostly of 15-year-old players.

Sprong was selected by the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in the first round (No. 13) of the QMJHL draft and has played a starring role ever since, with 69 goals and 156 points in 135 regular-season games the past two seasons.

"Daniel bounced around and played some minor hockey in Quebec and spent some time in Ontario and played with different tournament teams," Islanders coach Gordie Dwyer said. "He's really spent a significant amount of time during his childhood in the skill development side of hockey; it shows. ... He's what you call a triple threat offensive player. He's got skill, a great shot and sees the ice and distributes the puck really well. So he's got tremendous upside."

Many scouts believe Sprong possesses NHL-level skating ability right now.

This season Sprong was 12th in the QMJHL with 39 goals, 10th with 16 power-play goals and led Charlottetown with 88 points in 68 regular-season games. The 6-foot, 180-pound right wing then led Charlottetown with seven goals and 11 points in 10 playoff games.

"Everyone has a different path to the NHL and hopefully getting there and Daniel's story is well documented," Dwyer said. "His skill development is really what's second to none. He thinks the game well and has true offensive upside."

Islanders general manager Grant Sonier was sold on Sprong despite his off-the-radar start in hockey.

"He's got one of the quicker releases I've ever seen in a young kid," Sonier said. "His shot is world class and his individual puck skills are great. His biggest challenge will be learning how to manage the game."

Sprong is No. 20 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, which will be held June 26-27 at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.

"Last season I had a very good year and was fortunate to get a lot of minutes as a 16-year-old and this year I put a lot of pressure on myself," Sprong said. "In my draft year there were a lot of things going on and I struggled at first."

Sprong had five goals and 10 points in his first 13 games of 2014-15, but something started to click in the middle of October.

"I kind of rediscovered my game and was able to figure out how teams wanted to play me," he said. "I was trying to do too much. But now I know how I have to play to succeed and help my team."

Sprong said he enjoys watching Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane for his creativity. He projects to have a similar NHL skill set as New York Islanders right wing Michael Grabner or Arizona Coyotes left wing Mikkel Boedker.

"Sprong did show improvement in his overall game in the second half," Central Scouting's Troy Dumville said. "He's one of the most skilled prospects in QMJHL this year. He possesses good speed, good puck skills and is a goal scorer. He can execute at full speed and creates a lot of challenges for defenders.

"He's hungry, wants the puck, and I've seen him do everything you want to see done in a prospect. He has a good pro game."

Sprong said it is difficult not to think about the NHL draft.

"I think the real excitement for the draft will be when I walk into that stadium and know my name will be called," he said. "Then I can finally say those 17 or 18 years of hard work finally paid off. Right now my name hasn't been called and I'm not at the arena for the draft, so I'll keep working. When I do get to Florida and hear my name selected, that will be great."

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