Key Factors that will determine Daniel Sprong playing with Crosby for a sustained period
In an expected development, Daniel Sprong opened camp on Sidney Crosby’s right wing and has stayed in that spot since. This has been a preference of management and it’s going to get a look in the preseason.
We’re at the stage of camp still where the coaching staff is in exploring mode.
I’ve mentioned in the past about how in a perfect world the staff would love for a Sprong or Dominik Simon to show sustainability of being able to play Crosby in that it would allow the staff to do other things like play Patric Hornqvist with Derick Brassard in a third line role.
Sprong has flashed his skilled game all camp, notably his dynamic shot, but we’ve learned little to this point of whether the coaching staff and Crosby will be comfortable enough to have Sprong flanking Crosby’s right wing for a long-period in the regular season.
Training camp practices are not real-game situations and neither in the preseason until about the final dress rehearsal.
Crosby’s comfort level with Sprong will matter a lot moving forward on whether he can be a mainstay here during the first quarter or so of the regular season.
A couple things that are going to be very important when it comes to evaluating Sprong’s prospects of playing a top-line role this season:
1. A winger’s ability on the wall to get the puck to Crosby in stride through the neutral zone. Chris Kunitz was tremendous at this and Jake Guentzel has perfected this vital area that has made him such a good fit to play with Crosby. This was one key area Crosby kept requesting for Dominik Simon to stay on his right wing late last season. How Sprong performs in this area will have great barring.
2. Puck support in the offense zone: The Penguins have been talking about Daniel Sprong’s play away from the puck for almost a year now. It’s not just about the defensive zone. You want to play with Crosby, you better be able to read and react quickly in the offensive zone from a puck support standpoint. Kunitz, Dupuis, and Guentzel were or are tremendous at it when playing with 87 and the coaching staff always feels they can go to Bryan Rust in a pinch because of how well he excels in this area when playing with Crosby. The organization will be watching Sprong closely here when the games begin on this part of his game.
3. Backchecking ability/Smarts: One of the primary concerns with playing Sprong on Crosby’s line has been increased defensive responsibilities for Crosby. Sprong is never going to be a great player in his own end. He is who he is. There’s a reason beyond offensive chemistry that Pascal Dupuis played years on Crosby’s right wing.
Being a good backchecker is beyond just busting your tail back to the neutral zone/defensive zone. There’s been scuttlebutt [hide] in the past that Crosby gets frustrated with Patric Hornqvist because of Hornqvist’s prioritizing a chip and chase game over zone entries. However, Hornqvist makes up for it in a lot of different areas. One is how good of a backchecker he is and how efficient he is in taking shooting lanes away in the d-zone at the point. Bryan Rust can also be included here on why he also fits with Crosby.
The Penguins know Sprong can put the puck in net and make skilled plays. He’s showing it all camp in drills and they knew it last season, but a great game next to Crosby in early January against Islanders still didn’t matter to them and there’s reasons for that.
The noted areas above will be what determines his place as a top-line winger this season. [/hide]