Each year, there are certain players with inexplicable skill that fall into the lap of one lucky team, often in the mid-to-late first round.
In 2010, the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals ended up with the mega-talented Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov with picks 16 and 26 respectively.
In 2011, the Tampa Bay Lightning selected Vladislav Namestnikov with the 27th pick, after others passed up on the talented forward.
In 2012, both Filip Forsberg and Teuvo Teravainen inexplicably fell, with the Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks taking full advantage.
The list goes on. The Blues, as they did with Tarasenko, look to have taken advantage of another two fallers in 2014, as they selected Robby Fabbri and Ivan Barbashev with picks 21 and 33.
This year, as rankings have been released by various scouts and scouting agencies, I have been surprised to see one player, a forward I’ve had ranked in the middle of the first round all year, left out of many top 30s.
Unsurprisingly, like Tarasenko, Kuznetsov, Namestnikov, Forsberg, Teravainen, Fabbri and Barbashev before him, he’s among the most talented players in the class.
Daniel Sprong, a forward with the Charlottetown Islanders of the QMJHL, is an uber-talented scorer with elite offensive upside. There is very little he can’t do with puck and his shooting, passing, stickhandling, awareness and creativity are first-class. At 6’0” tall, size isn’t an issue.
Despite playing on a Charlottetown team that finished 15th in goals for among 18 QMJHL teams, Sprong finished with 88 points in 68 games, 13 points more than his next closest teammate, another 2015-eligible forward, Filip Chlapik. His production, has never been in question.
And his progression hasn’t been either.
Not only did Sprong take great strides in his draft year, becoming one of the QMJHL’s most dynamic offensive threats but he finished the year on a tear, registering points in every game in March. In 12 games in March (nine regular season, three playoffs), Sprong registered a remarkable 27 points. Perhaps even more impressively, he registered more than a goal a game in the final month, with 14 goals, scoring in 10 of 12 games.
The reason consistently given for his low ranking, despite the obvious offensive dominance? His work ethic and defensive commitment. But for those who have watched and scouted the Islanders this season and last, it’s abundantly clear that Sprong has become more defensively responsible.
In fact, in January, Sprong was the recipient of Charlottetown’s Ryobi Hardest Working Player of the month award. And while there are still areas to improve upon on the defensive side of the puck for Sprong, the progression serves as a positive.
The success goes back to his team-record 30-goal rookie season. His strong, lengthy stride allos him to always be involved and not behind the play and his bullish, aggressive mentality help him push the tempo and beat defenders cleanly off the rush. This is helped by ferocious shifts in his weight and light edges that make him explosive in tight.
Despite a shot-first mentality, Sprong always has his head up, allowing him to find seams for quality chances for his teammates. And while he can get caught trying to do too much, he remains one of the most prolific scorers in the draft class.
If he’s not taken in the teens of the first round, his electric offensive upside could make him the steal of the draft for an opportunistic late-round team. There’s no question he has the talent to be a top-six, impact winger in the NHL. In the first round, it’s that kind of talent every team should look for.
Don’t let the rankings fool you, Sprong’s a talented kid dominating one of the world’s best junior hockey leagues as a sophomore. He’s not a second rounder.
Watch Sprong's quick crossovers here as he separates himself and surprise the goalie with his release.
Watch Sprong's quick footwork and unbelievable move here.
And notice the awareness and skill on display here, as Sprong kicks the puck to a teammate off the rush and opens himself up to receive and finish the one-timer on the opposite side of the ice.
And finally, check out this heads-up cross ice pass through a tight seam in the offensive zone.