ARLINGTON, V.A. — When Daniel Sprong first hit the ice after a trade to the Washington Capitals, he didn’t really know where to stand, especially during warmups. Now, a couple of years removed from the trade deadline deal that brought him to D.C. from Anaheim, the 24-year-old has grown into a different player — one that is more resolved and confident and has immersed himself into the Caps culture.
From the way he engages in the team’s strange pregame rituals in the tunnel to his set role during the pregame skates, it’s easy to see that Sprong has found his place in the District. And, after a long Monday practice, Sprong waits to chat with a smile, bundled up in a hat and vest. He’s comfortable, casual as he leans against the wall at the team’s practice facility as if it’s been his home for years.
“I remember when I first started skating — I fell in love with the game right away,” Sprong mentions with a smile. “I love being on the ice, and I just grew. It’s been going good so far.”
Sprong was born and raised in Amsterdam. Hockey wasn’t popular in The Netherlands, with the only ice sport really taking off being speed skating. However, his father, Hannie, played professional hockey overseas and also managed a team in Sprong’s native land. So, Sprong was able to follow in his footsteps.
“It’s not coming. We’re speed skating… it’s soccer, speed skating,” Sprong noted. “[I] played a bit of soccer, but wasn’t very good at it.”
Sprong took to the game immediately, playing well beyond his years. It was beyond a metaphor at that point; when he was four and five years old, he’d lace ’em up alongside players 12 and older. With his skill level and desire to pursue a career — something Sprong was certain of even at such a young age — his family packed up and moved to L’île-Bizard, Quebec when Sprong was eight years old.
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There were more rinks and more opportunities for Sprong, who was now less than an hour drive from Montreal. He had a multitude of paths ahead of him through the junior leagues and different levels in Canada. However, it wasn’t always easy for him.
“When I moved to Montreal, I was always considered an outsider because I wasn’t from there. You know? I wasn’t Canadian,” Sprong admitted. “Always the European kid.”
Sprong played in multiple local minor hockey leagues and Pee-Wee tournaments, and ultimately joined a Pennsylvania traveling team to further his development in 2011-12. After that year, he went back to Quebec, but because he was a Dutch citizen, he was ineligible to play top-tier hockey. So, he played with the Lac St-Louis Tigres of the Quebec Midget Espoir AA league, setting a record with be-a-pro numbers: 104 points in 30 games.
His play caught the attention of the QMJHL, and he was taken at No. 13 by the Charlottetown Islanders in 2013. There, Sprong would find an identity and felt more at home as he put up over point-per-game results at the junior level.
“As time went on, everyone saw me more and more as a regular Canadian kid because I went through the ranks there… it’s a bit of a different story, but you know, an awesome ride. A lot of memories,” Sprong smiled.
“I could’ve went to college, but juniors is the quickest way to go pro,” he added. “That was always on my mind.”
As he put up high-scoring numbers in the “Q,” pro scouts started to take notice of Sprong’s shot. He’s capable of one-timers and quick, lethal snapshots and wristers, ones that even Ovechkin has called “solid.” It’s something that also inspired the Pittsburgh Penguins to take him in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft.
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Though that’s what he’s known for, he also plays the game with a lot of speed, does a good job at moving the puck and can get to the net and make strong plays. And ultimately, the “sniper” criteria was never something Sprong truly applied to himself.
“That just grew over time,” Sprong shrugged. “I think it’s something I worked on a lot growing up was my shot. But I think I never saw myself as that kind of player. As I got older and older, people started labeling me like that. So I think that’s just kind of been attached with my name.”
Over his career, Sprong has seen time at both the NHL and AHL levels.He is the only active Dutch player in the league, and the fourth to ever take NHL ice. In Pittsburgh, he didn’t get a full-time chance up with the Pens and ultimately headed to Anaheim in a trade back in 2019. There, he played with both the Ducks and their AHL-affiliate San Diego Gulls. Then, the Capitals came calling, and so far, he feels it’s been the best fit.
“I love it here. I think it’s a great group of guys just like every other team. But I just feel really at home here, I feel comfortable,” Sprong admitted. “I feel like I can be myself and get to play a little bit.”
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His time in D.C. has seen him grow confident in himself and become more involved in the team culture. During pregame skates, he’s the one who clears the pucks out of the net, and he stands behind Ovechkin and watches him shoot one-timers from Nicklas Backstrom while waiting to do his own one-timer practice with Evgeny Kuznetsov to close out warmups.
He has also taken quite a few lessons from watching the Great 8 and bonding with his teammates.
“That’s where I [usually] stand after warmups, but you know, he’s the big man, so you got to get out of his way,” Sprong joked. “But no, I just like watching him from behind, just looking at him, the way he shoots. He’s the best scorer of all time.”
Through 82 games up with the Capitals, Sprong has net 21 goals and 33 points and has eight goals and five assists this season as he tries to find consistency while the team looks to return to its winning ways.
Power move by Daniel Sprong. Drive to the net, score and then bulldoze two guys over pic.twitter.com/mic7nRqeWX
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) February 2, 2022
Since his trade to Washington, Sprong admits that he has grown closest with goaltender Vitek Vanecek, who welcomed him right away when Sprong started out in Hershey. However, he said he’s also been able to look up and grow his game with the help of players like Tom Wilson and T.J. Oshie. And with regard to all of his Capitals teammates, “you can go to dinner with any guy and have a great time.”
“Everyone’s a good group of guys. We along very well… I was kind of familiar with [Vitek] the most, then coming here and the team has been together so long and the core group, we kind of stuck together at first. We still do.
“We always drive to the airport together when we go on the road, and we grab a Starbucks and we play rock, paper, scissors who plays every time, and [Vitek] doesn’t like losing,” Sprong added with a laugh. “Always a great day when he has to pay, especially when they spell his name wrong on the coffee.”
Off the ice, Sprong lives the bachelor lifestyle, playing video games and golf in his spare time while jamming out to “any kind of music,” from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Tiesto. He also spends time with his teammates and their families, most recently helping Oshie’s daughter figure out a tough math problem to finish a homework assignment just in time.
And ultimately, two years on and off the ice in D.C. have meant everything for No. 10 and his career.
“[I can] play my style of game. I just really feel at home here. And I felt like this stop here, since Pittsburgh and Anaheim, I’ve felt the most at home here,” Sprong said. “And I really feel like the style of play everyone plays here, we have such a good team. I just really feel at home… I’m lucky to do this for a living.”