The Pittsburgh Penguins have sent 18-year old winger Daniel Sprong back to his junior team for the remainder of the 2015-16 season.
From the Pens:
Spending this time in the NHL has been a good development experience for Daniel," Rutherford said. "But it's important for him to have more playing time."
Sprong, 18, skated in 18 NHL games with Pittsburgh, scoring a pair of goals. He tallied his first NHL goal against Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 15 at CONSOL Energy Center.
The 6-foot, 180-pound Sprong was Pittsburgh’s top draft pick in 2015, chosen in the second round with the 46th overall selection.
Sprong was one of just five players from the ‘15 Draft to play NHL games this year, joining the top-two overall picks, Conor McDavid and Jack Eichel, and first-round picks Noah Hanifin of Carolina (5th overall) and Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen (10th overall).
It's a disappointing piece of asset management for Rutherford and the Pens. By playing Sprong in his 10th NHL regular season game, they "burned" the first year of his entry-level contract, so he will be a restricted free agent after the 2017-18 season. If they sent him back prior to that 10th game, he wouldn't have been until after the 2019 season. It sounds bad to use a year for 8 games, but young players with no arbitration rights don't have a lot of leverage, so it probably shouldn't be anything more than a minor inconvenience to speed up the clock a year.
The bigger issue, was why to even keep him this long. Sending him back now pretty much just admits the mistake that they shouldn't have kept him past 10 games.
By now though it was apparent to send Sprong back He's been a scratch (13 times) in almost as many games he has played (18). Even with Pascal Dupuis retiring and Beau Bennett typically hurt, the Pens just couldn't find enough ice-time for Sprong, a natural right-winger. Which makes sense being as the Pens have Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, Eric Fehr as natural RWs. Last game new coach Mike Sullivan played Conor Sheary on the right side as well, electing to scratch Sprong. When Bennett returns, he'll slot in there somewhere too until his next injury.
We'll see how the rest of the season goes for Sprong, who now heads back to Charlottetown. That's hardly been a team known for developing a lot of good professional players, and have another losing record this season so far. Hopefully Sprong gets to create a lot of offense, and enhance his skill and build his confidence for next season.