For such a young Charlottetown Islanders team, no one could have predicted that rookie Daniel Sprong would be a leading force for the team’s offense this season.
The 16-year-old Montreal, Que. native, originally born in Amsterdam, leads the Islanders in team scoring with 14 goals, 17 assists for 31 points in 30 games as of Dec. 1. He was Charlottetown’s 13th-overall pick at the 2013 QMJHL Entry Draft after being ranked the sixth overall skater in the final CSR list.
Sprong said he didn’t expect to have such a successful start to the season.
“Last year I was always a guy who created offense. I’m just lucky to be playing with guys who play an offensive game. Everything that is going so far this season, is going well so hopefully that continues.”
He thanks and gives credit to his teammates this season for his 31 points.
“They’ve been with me every step of the way,” said Sprong. “They’ve shown me things I didn’t know coming into the QMJHL that they knew from their rookie season. They’re just showing me the way and I’m just following it.”
Before being drafted by the Islanders, Sprong played with the Lac St-Louis Tigres Espoir of the Quebec Midget Espoir Double A League last season where he lead the league in scoring with 48 goals and 104 points in 30 games.
Sprong recorded his first QMJHL point on the team’s season and home opener on Friday Sept. 13, 2013 against Halifax. He assisted on Matej Beran’s second period goal – which was Charlottetown’s first goal as its new re-branded franchise. His first goal would come three games later on Nov. 22 in Saint John on the power play.
He also credits hard work to his success so far this season.
“I’ve gotten opportunities to play on the power play and everytime I get an opportunity I try to make the most of it. I’m just grateful for my teammates helping me and I’m just playing my game and right now it’s working.”
The QMJHL was a big change from Midget Espoir for Sprong as be said it is faster, bigger and has lots of different systems, but he is happy to be in league with Charlottetown.
“I fit right into the system. I feel comfortable when I’m on the ice…and everytime I play here I feel comfortable, every shift, every shift I gain confidence and gain experience.”
He trained in Montreal in the Summer time, knowing he had to get bigger, faster and better for the upcoming season.
“It’s a big change form midget to the major junior league. Coming into training camp I knew I had to prove myself as a 16-year-old,” he said.
Islanders Head Coach Gordie Dwyer is not surprised with the way his rookie has been playing so far this season.
“We knew he was a very talented player and we expected him to come in and have an impact in our lineup…we knew he was a top end player coming out of Midget and we identified that early and we’re happy to have him in our lineup.”
Being a young player in the league, Dwyer said Sprong will have his ups and downs but the team wants him to work on his play away from the puck.
“I think that’s always an area guys can improve on, especially with younger guys coming into the league. Daniel is going to get his opportunities and when he’s creating opportunities, we know he’s doing his job and he’s got the ability to put pucks away as well and make things happen offensively. He’s a young guy. He’s going to learn the ropes here as he moves along but it’s nice to see him be able produce early.”
As for Sprong, he said Dwyer expects him to play his game.
“He says I got drafted for a reason and those reasons I have to bring to the team and everytime I step on the ice, I got to show why I got drafted by this organization.”
The Islanders are a younger looking team this season after losing several key players from their 41-win season last year. Out are Ben Duffy, Josh Currie and Alex Micallef who graduated from the league last year, and also missing are Victor Provencher and Louick Marcotte who were traded in the off-season.
In for the Islanders this year are Sprong, 19th-overall pick Alexandre Goulet, Bradley Kennedy and 16-year-old Kameron Kielly acquired from Gatineau. There are also young returnees like Alexis Pépin, Nathan Yetman and Kevin Laliberte.
Dwyer said Sprong has been fitting in well with the other rookies this season.
“He’s a pretty funny guy. He’s centre of attention a lot and even within the dressing room the guys like to joke around and give him a hard time every now and then. He’s got a great attitude, he’s got a lot of inner fuel that he wants to be a hockey player and I think his teammates realize that and he enjoys the game of hockey.”
For his rookie season, Sprong has no personal goals or a certain point plateau he would like to reach. He just wants to play the season out and see how it goes.
“I play every game like it’s my last game,” he said. “I try to do whatever it takes offensively to do anything. I take it day-by-day. If it’s a point a game, or no points a game, or no goals or anything, I don’t mind as long as the team wins and I’m playing well. I’m just happy to be here and I’ll take it game by game.”
Sprong is currently second in rookie scoring, eight points behind Halifax Mooseheads Nikolaj Ehlers. Sprong will look to continue to add to his point totals Wednesday night when his Islanders visit the Sea Dogs in Saint John, N.B.