Jake Guentzel vs. Daniel Sprong

This picture is from last season’s AHL playoff series between the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and the Providence Bruins. What that means to you is probably very little.

I’m taking more notice of two specific players from this snapshot. One is Daniel Sprong (the goal scorer tapping teammates gloves), second round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins last season. The other is Jake Guentzel (No. 44), the Penguins third rounder in 2013.

They’ve taken different paths to get to where they are, or in Sprong’s case, should be.

Sprong surprisingly fell in his draft all the way into the Penguins laps in the second round. They didn’t have a first round pick so they were very happy to get him in round two. He got a chance to crack the opening night roster last season under former head coach Mike Johnston who gave him limited playing time to the point where he was scratched. After scoring 2 goals in 18 games, he eventually was sent back to juniors and wasted a year of his Entry Level Contract because the Penguins chose to send him down so late into the season.

Sprong fared pretty well for WBS in the playoffs when he returned from the Charlottetown Islanders of the QMJHL. He had 7 points in 10 playoff games.

Guentzel took his path a little differently. After being drafted by the Penguins out of the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 2013, Guentzel stayed in college and finished out last season where he scored a combined 119 points in 108 career college games.

When he finally finished out his college career and burst onto the scene in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, he played 11 regular season games. While participating in the 10 postseason games the Baby Penguins played in, he led the team with 14 points.

Now they’re in two different situations.

Sprong is currently rehabbing a shoulder that required surgery after being injured as a ‘black ace’ during the Penguins’ Stanley Cup Playoff run last season. Jake Guentzel is enjoying his first taste of NHL action to the tune of 4 points in 4 games.

I tell you all of this because I am part of a 10-12 person Penguins group chat on twitter. I had asked the people of the chat to feed me some ideas on some articles to write and one anonymous person had suggested I do a Sprong vs. Guentzel article. Here it is.

Both guys have their strengths and flaws to their game. At this stage of their careers, it’s obviously impossible to say option A will be better than option B. With that being said, if I was forced to choose one in a re-draft (assuming they entered the draft in the same year) I’d have to choose Guentzel.

Guentzel probably seems like the cheesy answer here mainly because he’s played more recently than Sprong.

As of this moment, Guentzel is the more complete player. Current head coach Mike Sullivan had the confidence to put him on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel in his NHL debut, two guys who aren’t exactly known for their defense. What does that tell you about having enough of a two-way game to play with them?

He was one of 18 Penguins in franchise history to score in their NHL debut. He joined Rick Kessell, Mario Lemieux, Kevin Stevens, and Luca Caputi as the only ones to do it on their first shift. It was also the quickest NHL debut goal in franchise history, only 1:02 into the game.

Here’s the clip incase you hadn’t seen it already:

Pretty sweet, huh?

I’m not knocking Daniel Sprong, but a main reason Mike Johnston struggled to give him more than 5:00 of ice time per night was because they didn’t trust his defensive ability. That number didn’t change much under Mike Sullivan, though. That’s why he was sent back to the QMJHL to get some actual playing time. Tom Sestito was receiving the same amount of ice time in the NHL this season. I suspect Sprong will be a bit better than him.

While Guentzel is known more for his two-way game that still leads to him scoring a very sufficient amount of points, Sprong is a bit more recognized for his insanely quick release.

I’m sure you’ve seen this as well. But if you didn’t get to see Sprong’s first NHL goal last season, please watch how quickly the puck leaves his stick and rockets past Ottawa Senators goaltender Craig Anderson:

Yeah, that release is up there with some NHL greats. Not that I’m putting him in the same breath as guys like Pavel Bure and Alexander Ovechkin. He can still shoot the puck and very quickly.

With only 22 games of NHL experience combined under their belts, neither guys is the clearly better player. Guentzel seems to have a solidified spot on the roster for the foreseeable future while Sprong will need to work his way back into the lineup after injury. Let’s hope Sprong turns out to be a piece the Penguins have wanted for a while. The potential to be a 25-30 goal scorer is there. In the meantime, let’s enjoy Guentzel dominance since his promotion to the Pittsburgh (not-so-baby) Penguins.

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