Penguins notebook: GM says Sprong has done enough to stick in NHL
The decision of what to do with rookie forward Daniel Sprong isn’t much of a decision at all, according to Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford.
Sprong appears all but certain to stick in the NHL.
“It looks that way,” Rutherford said Tuesday. “If you’re asking me today, it looks that way.”
Sprong likely will have played in eight games after Thursday. One more and the Penguins must make a decision on whether to play him in a 10th. That would burn a year of his entry-level contract. The Penguins also could return him to his junior team, the Charlottetown Islanders in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
If Sprong plays 40 NHL games, it would count as an accrued year of service toward the seven required to become an unrestricted free agent. Again Rutherford said he doesn’t care.
“We’re really not looking at any deadlines,” he said. “We’re just looking at what’s best for the team and what’s best for him. He’s played well. When he gets the puck, he goes to the net. He creates scoring chances.
“He’s learning how to play away from the puck, which gets harder and harder to do, especially at this level. It’s continuing to develop, and I believe he can help our team.”
Sprong has one goal in six games while seeing mostly third-line duty. He missed a pair of games while sorting out a work-visa issue.
At practice Tuesday, Sprong skated on a line with center Nick Bonino and left wing Chris Kunitz.
“He’s doing very well,” Rutherford said. “Too bad he missed a couple of days of practice last week. That always sets a player back a little bit. We like the things he’s doing. He’s developing. He’s learning. Learning the league.”
Rutherford spent much of the summer talking about how it’s tough to score goals, the primary reason he acquired forwards Phil Kessel, Bonino and Eric Fehr.
“I wasn’t hoping they were going to prove me right,” Rutherford said.
The Penguins have 13 goals in eight games. That average of 1.63 ranked 29th, ahead of only the Anaheim Ducks at 0.75, entering Tuesday night games.
Much of the blame can be placed on the power play, which has converted just 2 of 28 chances (7.1 percent). The only power play worse is Anaheim’s at 4.5 percent.
Rutherford hinted that changes — not with personnel but how those players are deployed — could be coming.
“Our power play has to be better,” Rutherford said. “We have the guys on the power play that can make it work. We may have to make a few adjustments there as to how we’ll go about it.
“If you just take our power play and get it to average — which is not unreasonable to think it should be — we have more goals right there. Maybe even one or two more wins.”
Bennett set to return
After missing five games with an undisclosed injury he suffered while celebration a goal Oct. 13 against Montreal, Beau Bennett is expected to return to the lineup Wednesday in Washington.
“It’s all up to the coaches,” Bennett said. “I’ve gone through the protocol of pushing and shoving, battling out there. Shot feels good. Hands feel good. Just have to see what happens (Wednesday).”
Pouliot nearing return
Defenseman Derrick Pouliot has been gaining confidence in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Rutherford said. In six games, he has one goal and five assists.
While defense hardly has been the Penguins’ biggest issue, Rutherford said Pouliot returning isn’t far off.
“There’s really good signs with Pouliot,” Rutherford said. “We’re really comfortable with him and where he’s at. … We know he has the ability and the skill level. It’s more a matter of getting that confidence on a consistent basis.
“I don’t want to rush it. That was a mistake that we made last year, but I feel pretty confident saying he’ll be back here sooner than later.”