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Sullivan’s encouraging comments on Sprong; Pens prospects have it tough

There’s good news for Daniel Sprong entering camp, and the prospects challenge in Buffalo figures to be uphill battle for Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

As training camp begins to open, some comments Penguins coach Mike Sullivan made to the PG’s Jason Mackey have to be music to fans ears:

“I think sometimes patience with certain players, in my experience, is never a bad thing to help a player grow and develop,” Sullivan said.

There’s a reason Sullivan wanted to exercise patience, and it involves Sprong’s play away from the puck. Only this time it isn’t his defense. Sullivan wanted Sprong to focus on spacing and how he makes himself available to his linemates, something Sullivan thinks is particularly important if Sprong winds up playing with Crosby.

“If you’re going to play with a guy like Crosby, that’s a critically important skill to have – the spacing to him, to offer that support but also know when to move away and give Sid the opportunity to do what he does best,” Sullivan said. “That’s something that we talked to Daniel a lot about last year. We think he’s made strides there.”

Enough to play regularly? That much remains to be seen. But Sullivan does feel Sprong can play pretty much anywhere, and he’s eager to start tinkering with some combinations.

“Daniel can be a guy that we utilize up and down our lineup, depending on how the combinations shake out,” Sullivan said. “A lot of it, quite honestly, is going to depend on performance from both him and others.

“It’s hard for me to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to play him right here.’ Daniel will get a great opportunity. He’s going to play with good players. We think very highly of him. Our expectation is that he’s going to be a good player for us.”

The key word is probably one used early on: patience. It’s going to be a long season. It’s natural and understandable that Sullivan is saying nice things and seemingly going to give Sprong an opportunity, now we’ll see starting next week what he can do with it. Seems like when a young, talented player runs out of waiver eligibility they either end up like a Brian Dumoulin and find a way to work into a niche on the team, or go the way or Derrick Pouliot and have coaches find little room for them and eventually get traded. From these comments, there’s perhaps more optimism that Sprong could be more Dumoulin than Pouliot.

The Penguins’ prospect team lost their opener in Buffalo at the prospect challenge 4-2 to the Boston Bruins’ rookies. Pittsburgh fell behind 4-0 early, and it was pretty much over. It was more or less just a talent discrepancy between a Bruins team laden with first and second round picks and a Pens team whose majority is made up of undrafted free agents.

The big takeaways seemed to be that Anthony Angello used his 6-foot-5 frame to lay two big body checks, and a player we spotlighted to watch in Connor Roberts also scored a goal.

The Penguins are back at it again today at 3:30 p.m. ET against the Devils’ prospect team, in what should be the least talented opponent they’ll see. Doubtful there will be any video or streams of this one, though when Pittsburgh plays Buffalo on Monday, there will be more.

Speaking of, that Rasmus Dahlin (No. 1 overall pick in 2018) was looking very special.