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Penguins recall Daniel Sprong

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Looking for an offensive spark, the Penguins have promoted by far their best internal skill option in youngster Daniel Sprong

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Pittsburgh Penguins v Calgary Flames Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

Looking for any sort of spark, the Pittsburgh Penguins have finally pulled the trigger and promoted winger Daniel Sprong from the AHL.

After right wing Bryan Rust’s “longer term” injury suffered Wednesday, I was wondering if Sprong would be the immediate answer. He wasn’t but then scored a hat trick last night and is up to 18 goals and 10 assists in 29 AHL games this year. He’s simply scoring too much to be ignored by an NHL club that can’t score at all right now.

Pittsburgh’s lineup last night against the Carolina Hurricanes started with a skilled left winger in Conor Sheary on the 3rd line right wing, and a slumping Carl Hagelin with 2 goals this season playing on the 2nd line left wing. Before long, lines were shuffled and Sheary was with Sidney Crosby. Is that the type of role in store for Sprong?

Given how Ryan Reaves is stapled to the 4th line, Sprong shouldn’t be on that line - which is a good thing. Playing Sprong with guys like Tom Kuhnhackl and Carter Rowney isn’t going to set him up for success. Would it with guys like Hagelin and Riley Sheahan?

Time might tell, but consider that Crosby doesn’t have an even strength assist since December 1st. He’s got but 1 goal (an empty netter at that) and just 2 assists overall in the last eight games. After a brief stretch around Thanksgiving of being red-hot, Crosby’s cooled tremendously and often had wingers shuffled every game. It might be a lot to ask of a 20-year old to provide a big boost, but at this point anything new or fresh has to be considered worth a shot.

Josh Yohe at The Athletic (paywall, but worth considering subscribing with all the great stuff they churn out) had an interesting take recently on Sprong:

Daniel Sprong will be recalled eventually. Ignore all the stuff you're hearing about his play away from the puck and his lack of defensive acumen. The Penguins think Sprong has a bit of an attitude problem and a bit of a maturity problem, so they're making him pay his dues in Wilkes-Barre. It's nothing serious. He's not a bad kid. Just has a different personality.

A lot of times fans zero into on the ice and don’t have the perspective or mindset to consider issues like Josh mentions. And I’m not so sure it’s “issues” just so much as a natural progression. I know at 20 I still had a lot of growing up to do, and big picture slow-playing Sprong was the right call.

But so too now is bringing him up to the NHL for the first time this season. The Penguins are in a precarious spot and are a team right now with a lot of questions and don’t have a lot of answers on gameday. Sprong isn’t going to ride in on a white horse and save the season, but he will add skill and hopefully be a part of the solution. Everyone seems to know a major trade is going to happen sooner or later, but trades take two to tango, and the market seems to be pretty quiet and tight at this point. Pittsburgh has a very active GM who will make changes where he can, but like the warden said in Shawshank, “salvation lies within” and an internal call-up like Sprong’s should hopefully provide some sort of spark.

If it doesn’t work or his effort isn’t consistent enough, they can send him right back to the AHL in a few weeks. That was cited the first time Jake Guentzel went back to the AHL after his NHL debut last season. Much like Guentzel, Sprong has too much talent to stay in the AHL if he can figure the rest out, and it’s time to see if he can.