PITTSBURGH – A few years back, when Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel played in summer hockey tournaments, spectators would flock to whichever rink had the talented youngster destined for the NHL.
They weren’t looking for Eichel, the second overall pick in June.
Instead, they wanted to see Daniel Sprong, a slick winger the Penguins drafted 46th overall.
“When we were young, he was, like, unbelievable, best player in all those summer tournaments,” Eichel said this morning inside the Consol Energy Center. “To play against him, he was just faster than everyone, more skilled.”
Five 2015 picks – Eichel, Sprong, Connor McDavid, Noah Hanifin and Mikko Rantanen – have cracked the NHL already. Only one, Sprong, 18, was selected in the second round.
“It’s good to see they gave him the opportunity,” Eichel said.
An impressive preseason helped Sprong, a prospect many projected as a first-rounder, force his way onto a loaded roster. General manager Jim Rutherford told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review earlier this week the Penguins plan to keep Sprong the rest of the season.
While most teams give their young second-rounders a long look during training camp, they usually have low expectations for them. Occasionally, one will wow.
Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly joined the Colorado lineup as a regular months after getting drafted 33rd overall in 2009.
“I think you’re not really expecting to come in and have an impact right away,” O’Reilly said. “I think that’s something that I’ve experienced. For (Sprong), that’s obviously a great thing, especially when you look at their lineup. The players that they have, to earn a spot there, that’s impressive, for sure.”
O’Reilly said he felt no pressure in camp as a rookie with the Avalanche.
“I was fortunate because I came into the league when they were rebuilding, trying to do something new,” he said. “So they had a bunch of spots available. I just kind of came and worked hard. Being in camp, (I was like), ‘Oh, I want to be able to play a preseason game.’ I never thought I’d get cut or anything like that, but I was just kind of enjoying every single moment I was there.”