It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, with the trade deadline months away, and we are already talking about trades. It takes rare circumstances for a trade to make sense mid-season. In this case, the Red Wings have a golden opportunity to improve their hockey team.
Sprong, 21, is in desperate need of a change of scenery. A second round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015, things haven’t gone as planned for the Dutch forward. He’s struggling to break into the lineup, and would have to pass through waivers to head to the AHL, where he would almost surely be claimed.
As for the Penguins themselves, they have hit a rut, having lost 5 of their last 6 games. Josh Yohe of The Athletic reports that general manager Jim Rutherford is not pleased and is looking to make a trade, particularly to bolster their depth. The writing is on the wall for Sprong, being the club’s most expendable asset.
That leaves some questions to be asked on Detroit’s end:
- What kind of player would they be getting
- What would they have to give up for Sprong’s services
- What would be his role moving forward
What Sprong brings is everything you want in a buy-low candidate. Having been a highly-touted prospect for years, he brings speed and skill that is ideal to have in your top-9. He might never become the impactful top-6 forward some thought he would be, but there is still some value that can come in that package. Given the opportunity, he could blossom and become a key part of the rebuild. Something he never got the chance to do on a Pittsburgh team loaded up front.
In his short NHL career, Sprong has played 38 games and recorded just 9 points. Keep in mind, he played his first 18 games as an 18 year-old, where he probably should have returned to juniors instead, but the Penguins chose to rush him. After failing to make the Penguins last season he torched the AHL with a stat line of 65 points in 65 games. Here is a list of some players who have scored at a similar rate with a similar age in the last few years (at least 20 games played):
Stats via prospect-stats.com and eliteprospects.com
Now for the trade itself, this is where is gets a little unpredictable. The Wings have three pending unrestricted free-agents that could be of interest to the Penguins. Those three being Nick Jensen, Gustav Nyquist, and Thomas Vanek, with the latter two having no-movement clauses, so all of this could be in their hands (also worth mentioning is that Vanek is currently injured).
Jensen to me seems like a perfect fit in the Penguins speed based attack. He skates well and can create his own offense. Two components that could allow him to thrive in the Steel City, with the majority of the attention on superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. On a cheap contract, he could be a target for Pittsburgh, allowing them add more to their roster later in the season. While Jensen has emerged as one of Detroit’s better defensemen, its unlikely the club opts to re-sign him with prospects waiting in the wings. This would also open up a spot on the D-core for a mid-season call-up when one of Filip Hronek, Joe Hicketts, or Libor Sulak are ready to return to the big club.
Nyquist and Vanek are more intriguing options. I can’t imagine a Sprong trade would be the only asset coming back in a Nyquist deal. With it already being unlikely of Goose hauling in a 1st round pick, a mid-round pick and Sprong should be enough to suffice his trade value. I would imagine something similar would be the case with Vanek. This works well for both sides, with Detroit receiving young pieces for their rebuild, and Pittsburgh addressing their depth needs while in win-now mode.
And just throwing this one out there: How would Pittsburgh feel about a Trevor Daley reunion?
Side Note: Nyquist or Vanek (or anyone else making a decent amount of money) going back in a trade would create some challenges with the cap, but that’s a bridge to cross when they get there. The point is to target Sprong.
Sprong’s ultimate role in Motown would be to add him to a young nucleus of players upfront. He could be the team swiss army knife. An ideal player to deploy in the bottom-6 who can be capable of playing on special teams. With that, he would also be a more viable option to use in the top-6 than, say, Tyler Bertuzzi. He would spread out the Wings offensive weapons and give them a better opportunity to roll four lines down the road. And if he breaks out as a legitimate offensive threat, well that is just a win for Detroit and I’m sure they can fit him in the lineup.
He becomes a restricted free-agent in 2020-21, which is the perfect amount of time to figure out what his long-term future with the team would look like.