For Penguins prospect Daniel Sprong, a lot has changed since 2015-16 opener

October 4, 2018
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The Penguins’ Daniel Sprong skates with at the puck against Sabres in the third period Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018 at PPG Paints Arena.

Healed up from a lower-body injury that cost him a couple of days of practice and with his minor-league apprenticeship finally behind him, top prospect Daniel Sprong is on track to play in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season opener Thursday night against the Washington Capitals.

It won’t be Sprong’s first time in the team’s opening-night lineup.

After sticking on the NHL roster as a rookie in 2015, he played in the first game of the season in Dallas.

It was only three years ago Monday, but it feels like ancient history.

The Penguins, coached by Mike Johnston, were shut out, 3-0, by Stars goalie Antti Niemi. Sprong’s linemates were center Matt Cullen and left wing Bobby Farnham.

“It’s the same excitement level. Just instead of being an 18-year-old kid, I’m a 21-year-old now,” Sprong said. “It’s been a crazy three years, with the (shoulder) surgery and playing back in juniors and all that, but I’m excited about opening night.”

If practice line combinations hold, the one similarity between Sprong’s two openers will be one of his linemates. Cullen skated as a fourth-line left wing in Wednesday’s practice alongside Sprong and center Riley Sheahan.

If Sprong, a naturally gifted goal scorer, is still looking to polish up his two-game game, he’ll have two excellent role models on his line.

“I don’t know if you could find two better examples than those two guys,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “They’re high-quality people. They’re good pros. They approach the game the right way every day.”

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