The Pittsburgh Penguins held their season-ending press conferences today, after being eliminated by the Washington Capitals in the second round. Among the usual injury news, general manager Jim Rutherford also noted that young forward Daniel Sprong “will be a regular” on the roster next season. Sprong got into just eight games this season despite dominating at the AHL level, and will now get a chance to really prove himself in 2018-19.
Sprong, 21, was selected 46th-overall by the Penguins in 2015 and forced his way onto the NHL roster with an incredible training camp. He played 18 games in 2015 before going back to junior in December, where he would spend all of the next season and a half. This year, in his first full-time taste of professional hockey, he recorded 65 points in 65 games for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and tied for the league lead in goals with 32.
Interestingly, because the Penguins burned the first year of his entry-level deal in 2015-16 by keeping him up past 10 games, Sprong is headed into this summer as a pending restricted free agent despite only having one real season of professional hockey. He’s not arbitration eligible, and can still be given a two-way qualifying offer, but the team could decide to sign him to a longer-term deal if they believe he can be a core piece going forward.
There is little chance of Sprong holding out or going overseas, and next year should be a huge opportunity for him. The Penguins have shown a willingness in the past to give young players a chance alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, a dream scenario for a rookie trying to make an impact. Where Sprong fits into the lineup won’t be clear until training camp, but for now he can be secure in the idea that he he’s penciled in this summer.