* Believe it or not, summer is winding down and it is time to think about the 2021-22 hockey season. Andrew Gillis and JJ Regan will discuss the biggest questions surrounding the Caps heading into the new season.
Today's topic: Can Daniel Sprong keep up the scoring pace?
Andrew: The simple answer is no. But the complicated answer is that I don’t think it will matter.
Daniel Sprong had the best season of his NHL career last year in Washington with 13 goals and seven assists. But not only that, he improved as a player at both ends of the ice and showed himself as a player that coach Peter Laviolette can rely on.
Now, he’s solidified a role on the team’s third line and will likely start the year alongside Lars Eller and Conor Sheary — two excellent role players for him to be on a line with. But I think those expectations may be a tad overstated.
To set the record straight, I am incredibly high on Sprong as a player. I think he’s perhaps the most valuable player on the roster (factoring in production, age and cap hit), which is exactly what the team needs at the moment.
Sprong shot 17.6% last year, which means he was on an 82-game pace for about 25 goals if he kept his shooting totals on pace. It still feels unreasonable to expect a player (albeit young and ascending) to shoot a career-high percentage every year.
With that said, I think a 20-goal season for Sprong is absolutely in the cards. He’s a wildly talented shooter that isn’t afraid to shoot the puck. And this season, Sprong will be one of the most important members of the Capitals, especially if the top six take a slight step backward.
So no, I don’t think his scoring pace of last year will necessarily keep up. But I think he’ll keep up a strong enough pace to where it won’t be noticeable.
JJ: Sprong led the Caps last season with 1.7 5-on 5 goals per 60 minutes, well above Alex Ovechkin who was second at 1.3. Sprong actually boasted the second-highest rate in the entire NHL among players who played in at least 10 games.
Sprong certainly has a knack for scoring which is incredibly valuable for a player who plays in limited minutes. On paper, it certainly looks like he is due for an increased role, and in that sense, no, I do not see Sprong scoring at the same rate as last year as a result. But I am also curious to see just how Sprong is utilized throughout the season.
In terms of scoring skill, Sprong has it. But there's not much to the rest of his game. I'm not as bullish on his defensive development as Andrew seems to be. I do not see him as particularly good defensively, nor do I see him as a top-six talent offensively. That leaves him in no-mans land which is why I believe he could not stick in the lineup as consistently as his goal totals dictated he should have last season.
The good news for Sprong is that the Caps probably have no choice but to play him this year. I think his play has earned him a full-time role on the third line and even if the coaches disagree...well, there aren't many other options given the team's cap constraints. We also have to remember that T.J. Oshie is 34 years old and several of the team's top forwards on the power play are in their 30s as well. What this all means is that Sprong should absolutely be an everyday player and could also be in line for some top-six and power play duty when needed throughout the season.
If he does play a bigger role, do I think Sprong will rival Ovechkin as the team's top 5-on-5 scorer? No, but I do think his overall production will increase and he will score somewhere between 15-20 goals this season.