DETROIT – Defenseman Ryan Sproul was the ninth and final player to make his NHL debut with the Red Wings last season.
Although he only appeared in one game, the regular-season finale, the organization is excited about Sproul’s potential.
“We haven't had a defenseman in the organization to shoot the puck as hard as he does since I remember,” said Jiri Fischer, Detroit’s director of player development. “He gets it through, every shot is dangerous and the way it comes off his stick, goalies have a hard time reacting. That's a gift.”
Sproul signed a three-year entry-level contract with Detroit in March 2012 following his second junior season with Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League. He was the third-leading scorer for the Greyhounds and was third amongst all OHL defensemen with 54 points.
He scored 23 goals with 31 assists and was plus-16 with 53 penalty minutes in 61 games for the Greyhounds, a team that he almost didn’t join.
“He was thinking about going to play college,” Fischer said. “He was recruited by Michigan. He ended playing junior in Sault Ste. Marie and last year he graduated the OHL as the top defenseman in the league. Later at the Memorial Cup, he was voted the CHL defenseman of the year. We've never had a defenseman that was drafted by Detroit receive that honor.”
During his third season with the Greyhounds, Sproul finished second in scoring with 20 goals and 46 assists through 50 games.
After Sault Ste. Marie was eliminated from the playoffs, Sproul joined the Grand Rapids Griffins in April 2013. In two regular-season games, the defenseman was a minus-1 with two penalty minutes and no points, and didn’t appear in any of the club’s playoff games.
In his first full season with the Griffins, Sproul earned 11 goals and 21 assists, the second highest scoring defenseman on the team.
Despite his success in Grand Rapids last season, Sproul still has plenty to work on.
“He always likes to take off out of the D zone, even before the puck leaves,” Fischer said. “He likes to use skill in the D zone. He worked on it and he's gotten better.
“Ryan can be really special. The defensive part, he's working on it. I think it's just a matter of time until he convinces everyone that 'I've done my duty and this is my time.’ ”