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Bargain Free Agent Still Available for Sabres

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Daniel Sprong NHL free agent Detroit Red Wings Buffalo Sabres

After week one of NHL free agency, the initial wave of top free agents is long gone. The list of available players now consists of aging has-beens, unqualified restricted free agents, and fringe NHL hopefuls. Based on his offensive impact and talent level, one particular free agent, Daniel Sprong, sticks out from the rest.

Sprong is a 27-year-old right winger from Amsterdam, Netherlands. He was drafted in the second round, 46th overall, by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015. His shot has always been the central focus of his game, and at only 6’0″ and 180 pounds he has an elite one.

The Detroit Red Wings signed Sprong as a free agent to a one-year, $2 million deal last offseason and he certainly earned his keep. His 18 goals and 43 points in 76 games were impressive considering he only averaged 12 minutes of ice time per game. After the Red Wings signed Patrick Kane mid-season, the forward was mostly relegated to fourth-line duty.

Daniel Sprong

Career Synopsis

Sprong impressed the Penguins immediately after they drafted him, and he saw 18 NHL games in the ensuing season after being drafted. He only played two and a half seasons in Pittsburgh, playing 42 games.

He then went to the Anaheim Ducks mid-season in 2018-2019 and scored 14 goals in 47 games, a full-season pace of 24 goals. Considering he averaged slightly over 13 minutes per game, that’s quality secondary scoring in the Ducks’ bottom six.

He only managed to crack Anaheim’s lineup for eight games the following season.

The Washington Capitals took a shot on Sprong in 2020-2021, and he put up 13 goals in 42 games. That’s a 25-goal pace over a full season in under 12 minutes per game, proving again that he can score in limited ice time.

Washington kept Sprong for part of another season and the forward’s production tailed a bit. He scored eight goals in 47 games.

Sprong was traded to the misfit expansion Seattle Kraken in-season in 2021-2022 and picked it up, scoring six goals in 16 games. That’s a 30-goal pace in almost 14 minutes of ice time, showing a correlation of higher production in more minutes played.

The Kraken used Sprong in a fourth-line, powerplay specialist role the following season, and he responded with the highest point total of his career. The Dutch winger recorded 21 goals and 46 points in 66 games, including six tallies and 14 points on the powerplay.

The Red Wings came a-knocking last season, and Sprong put up similar totals. 18 goals and 43 points in 76 games showed his 2022-2023 season was not a fluke.

Must Read: NHL Teams Under a Salary Cap Crunch

Sprong’s Skillset

Daniel Sprong NHL free agent player comps

The main attribute in Sprong’s arsenal is obvious, as he has one of the league’s better shots and is not afraid to use it. There’s also a playmaking aspect to his game, as when the puck is on his stick in the offensive zone, either he or his teammates are getting quality shots.

With those traits, it’s no surprise that he ranks in the 80th percentile on the powerplay. Sprong only received second-unit opportunity but still found a way to produce with the man advantage.

His comparisons across the NHL are most impressive from his data, referring to the above graphic. Since similar players are based on rate stats, what Sprong does in limited minutes compares to some of the most talented scorers in the league.

Patrick Kane, his former teammate, draws the closest comparison, based on the sole focus on offense. Both players have poor defensive metrics but make up for the difference by being an elite offensive threat on the ice. Brock Boeser, Andrei Kuzmenko, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Cole Caufield fit similar profiles.

Those players are relied upon heavily by their respective teams, raising the question of whether Sprong should be. He’s averaged a 20-goal pace in about 12 minutes per game throughout his NHL career. Theoretically, adding three more minutes of ice time per night could boost his totals to a respectable 25 goals and 55 points. Add another five goals and 15 points to that in a first powerplay role.

Reputation

So why has Daniel Sprong bounced around the league, despite signs of untapped potential? That’s a question that has been asked by every team that has acquired him.

He’s never lasted two full seasons with a single NHL team and has played for five franchises in nine seasons. There’s an overconfidence that oozes from the Dutchman, and sometimes that can rub people the wrong way. He hasn’t quite fit in seamlessly with teams, including those with strong leadership groups.

Pittsburgh had Crosby setting the tone, Anaheim’s captain was Ryan Getzlaf, and Washington had Ovechkin. Seattle had more of an inclusive committee approach, and Detroit had Dylan Larkin. Sprong didn’t work himself into enough of an essential piece of any of those locker rooms to earn a long-term deal.

In 2023 there was also an off-ice concern, as Sprong was accused of assaulting IndyCar driver Zachary Claman DeMelo in a nightclub.

Analysis: Evaluating Newest Sabres Forward Ryan McLeod

Sprong Contract

Without a doubt, some NHL team is going to sign Daniel Sprong. He’s the standout free agent at this point in the free agency period and one of the few remaining with unique offensive traits.

Teams don’t trust him enough to make him a top-six mainstay, but he has shown he could produce in limited time regardless. That ability to boost the secondary scoring and provide depth is valuable and should earn him yet another short-term deal.

The contract projections at Evolving-Hockey have a three-year, $3.378 million deal as the most likely for Sprong. Based on his recent contract history, it’s much more likely he will sign a one or two-year deal.

Evolving-Hockey projects a one-year contract at $1.799 million and a two-year holding a $2.729 million average annual value. Both line up with his most recent one-year, $2 million contract signed with the Red Wings last offseason.

Potential Destinations

If you’re wondering if Sprong would be a free-agent fit for the Buffalo Sabres, the answer is yes, on the ice he probably would. The Sabres have been shopping around for a top-six player, and he is a top-six scorer stuck in a bottom-six role. He could be a solid fallback option assuming they fail to find a trade that makes sense.

Trusting him in top six minutes could be risky, but the versatile Jason Zucker could flip-flop with Sprong on and off the second line if necessary. Head coach Lindy Ruff could also condense his minutes based on game situations, playing him more when the team is down and less when protecting a lead.

As for other potential destinations for Sprong, a place like Utah comes to mind. The league’s newest ownership group was aggressive in adding top-of-the-lineup players, proving they want to contend. Sprong can add his scoring touch to the bottom six on a team looking to find its identity.

The Montreal Canadiens could also use a secondary scoring boost, with right wingers Brendan Gallagher and Josh Anderson starting to age out. The Tampa Bay Lightning also makes sense, as they’re always looking for cheap forwards that add dynamic elements to the group.

Returning to Detroit isn’t likely, as the Red Wings seem primed to give Jonatan Berggren a full-time shot in the NHL. The top-of-the-league contenders are all cap-strapped, and the bottom-of-the-league teams don’t want to block the development of their top young players.

There’s a limited market left for Sprong, but he is undoubtedly the top free-agent forward left. With all of the uncertainty he brings as a locker room fit one thing is certain – he’ll get you 20 goals.

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