Pettersson has six points (all assists) in 27 games for the Ducks this season. He’s only averaged 14:01 per game.
Sprong had fallen to a total after-thought as of late, he’s been a healthy scratch in all but four games for Pittsburgh since November 6th (and only played in those four due to injury situations to other forwards). He recorded no goals, had four assists and was a -7 in 16 total NHL games this season.
Sprong leaves behind a whirlwind career of lost potential for Pittsburgh and a true “what could have been”. The 2015 second round pick actually made the Pens out of training camp as an 18-year-old in 2015, under then-coach Mike Johnston.
As was a career trend, manager Jim Rutherford seemed to favor Sprong more than the coach, as Sprong was used mostly in a low-minute 4th line role. Junior aged players have to be sent back before they play their 10th NHL game or they “burn” a year of their contract, and the Pens in hindsight made a mistake by keeping Sprong for 18 games in 2015-16 and then assigning him back to the QMJHL anyways when it was apparent he wasn’t going to make much of an impact as an 18-year-old.
From there, the team was very patient. Sprong suffered a shoulder injury in June 2016 and had surgery, knocking him out for most of the 2016-17 season, which he again spent entirely in the QMJHL (putting up a whopping 32 goals and 27 assists in just 31 games).
As a professional-eligible player, the Pens chose to slow-play Sprong in 2017-18, giving him virtually the entire season in Wilkes-Barre, their AHL affiliate. Sprong again excelled, scoring 65 points (32 goals, 33 assists) in 65 games on the farm. He was called up for a brief stretch in mid-season due to injury, but didn’t pop much in the NHL level, scoring three points (two goals, one assist) in eight games — with all the points coming in a single game.
This season in 2018-19, despite being just 21-years-old, Sprong was not eligible to be sent to the AHL without being placed on waivers. The reason for this, was his clock started ticking as soon as he played that ill-fated 10th game back in 2015-16, making him eligible for waivers much earlier than he otherwise would have been.
Sprong was shoe-horned on the Pens team. He started the pre-season training camp on a line with Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby, and the hopes immediately swelled among many in the fanbase wishing that the talented winger would get an audition in a prime spot in the lineup. However, it didn’t seem to go well (albeit mostly in practice situations) and Sprong was quickly shuffled down to the fourth line with less-quality linemates like Riley Sheahan, Matt Cullen and Derek Grant.
A major problem, acknowledged by Rutherford was that Sprong, a right winger, had to deal with a crowded depth chart. Veterans Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist and Bryan Rust are all right wingers too and took the bulk of all the minutes and quality opportunities on the right side.
Sprong could never prove his worth to coach Mike Sullivan. As a fourth liner, he certainly was mis-cast in a checking/defensive type of role, and often received benchings as situations dictated within a game as Sullivan played the players he trusted more.
But Sprong also only had 16 shots on goal in 16 games played. He was wholly unable to get any traction or stand out in any way.
Now attention at least can turn in the immediate Pittsburgh focus to what they received. Marcus Pettersson is a 22-year-old defenseman. Like Sprong he was a 2nd round pick in 2014. We’ll have more on him a little later on.