DESPITE INDIVIDUAL SUCCESS, SPRONG STILL HAS SOMETHING TO PROVE


Name an American Hockey League player who was more electrifying than Daniel Sprong during the 2017-18 regular season.

Go on.

We’ll wait.

Can’t do it, can you?

Sprong was sensational during his first full pro season, scoring at a point-per-game clip (65 in 65), leading all AHL rookies with 32 goals, and finishing one-point behind Manitoba’s Mason Appleton for the freshman point lead.

His 32 goals were also the most by any rookie to ever don a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton sweater, and tied him for second-most in team history. He also became the first Penguin in eight years to eclipse the 60-point mark.

Sprong expressed his disappointment with his team’s playoff exit when the Penguins held their exit meetings and locker clear-out day, but when prodded about his individual success, he lightened up a bit.

“Personally, I thought I had a really good year,” Sprong said. “I’m happy with my season. There were a lot of guys in this room that helped me this season, too. We created a lot of good memories together. I’m proud of the way my season went.”

The Netherlands native’s scoring prowess earned him several nicknames in his first full season as a pro; the Dutch Dangler, the Flying Dutchman, the King of Sprong Style.

There was never a question about Sprong’s offensive ability as he entered the season. The youngster was, however, tasked with improving his defensive play by the Penguins staff. It was a challenge he gladly accepted.

“Coming into the year, I was still cheating,” Sprong said. “I was looking for breaks. As the year went on, I started to play inside the game a little bit more. That in turn created more offense for me. That contributed to a lot of my success.”

This season, Penguins assistant coach Tim Army spent a lot of time in front of a computer screen reviewing game film with Sprong sitting right beside him. Engaged in the learning process, the rookie slowly but surely started to comprehend the benefits of not “cheating”, as he put it, and remaining an active participant in the play, even when he wasn’t carrying the puck on his stick.

This evolving play was a big reason why he was able to etch his way into Wilkes-Barre/Scranton record books, thanks in large part to his outburst of 11 goals and 19 points in his final 15 games of the regular season.

Despite the rousing success in year one, Sprong isn’t taking anything for granted this summer; he’s approaching the next campaign like someone who still has something to prove.

“There’s still a lot of months, a lot of steps between now and [the start of the season],” Sprong said. “I’m going to work hard in the summer, come back in shape and get ready to earn my spot.”

2018-19 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Season Ticket Information

DESMITH’S JOURNEY LEADS TO ALL-ROOKIE TEAM AWARD

Casey DeSmith wasn’t expecting to be named to the American Hockey League’s All-Rookie Team on Wednesday morning.

That’s because he didn’t even know the honor existed.

But the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins goaltender was more than happy to accept the recognition when he was told about his inclusion prior to yesterday’s practice at the Toyota Sportsplex.

“It was exciting.  Obviously I had no idea going into [Wednesday],” DeSmith said.  “And then Clarkie announced it on the ice in front of the whole team, and everybody was pretty excited for me.”

It’s hard to argue against DeSmith’s spot on the team, which also includeds current Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jake Guetnzel.  As of April 6, DeSmith led all rookies and ranked fourth overall with a 2.14 goals against average, and had posted 19 wins in 25 appearances.  He and teammate Tristan Jarry have helped the Penguins to the league’s lowest goals against total as the season enters its final two weeks.

DeSmith got his first taste of pro hockey least year with the Wheeling Nailers, but found it difficult to crack the lineup in the team’s three-goalie rotation.  He saw some midseason action with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, winning his first AHL start on January 3 against the Hartford Wolf Pack.  But still found himself the odd man out when he was returned to the Nailers.

Through a series of injuries in Pittsburgh and circumstances in Wilkes-Barre, DeSmith was signed to a PTO in late April and wrestled the number one goalie spot away as the Pens headed to the playoffs.

DeSmith backstopped the Pens to three straight overtime wins against the Providence Bruins, including a 59-save, double OT victory in the series deciding third game, and followed that up with a 33-save shutout win against the Hershey Bears in Game One of the Division Final.  He appeared in nine of the Penguins’ 10 postseason contests, going 5-4 with a 2.44 goals against average.

That performance helped earned DeSmith an AHL contract for the 2016-17 season, where he’s continued to shine in his first full season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

“I guess going into this year I didn’t feel quite as much as a rookie as other people did maybe, just because I did have that time in the playoffs last year, getting thrown into the fire there.  Really it helped me feel even more part of the team,” he said.