Driven by anger.
That’s what Daniel Sprong says motivates him. Anger. His memories of being singled out for criticism and harassment in the sport he loves. His memories of feeling targeted as a novice-aged player skating in the prestigious Brick invitational hockey tournament in Edmonton. “It was an unbelievable tournament but (there were) parents calling my room at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. before games we played the next day,” he recalled in a recent interview. “It showed me that people are jealous but you have to keep working hard. That’s driven me. That’s still driving me. It showed that people are going to try and stop me but I’m not going to be stopped.”
Born in the Netherlands, Sprong moved to Montreal at age seven and has emerged as one of the more complex and intriguing players for the 2015 NHL Draft. His high-end talent is undeniable, but like Josh Ho-Sang last year, many scouts still don’t know quite what to make of the whole package.
Those memories from the Brick tourney are old, but the Charlottetown Islanders winger finds it easy to quickly bring them to life again. “I remember having nightmares about it,” he says. “I remember thinking people are seeing you because you’re good. They’re hurting you because you’re good, so don’t worry about it because you’re not bad.
“I’d have nightmares that people were calling me in the middle of the night and there wasn’t even a phone in the room. I’d just feel the phone ring. I’d wake up thinking about those things, and of course things that aren’t appropriate to talk about on TV. But I just kept telling myself to work harder and harder. I worked on my hands every day, more anger, anger. I think that’s where I got fast hands.”
Even though he’s been in North America for more than a decade and yearns to get Canadian citizenship so he can play for the country internationally one day, Sprong still sees himself as a “Euro.” “Yeah, I think by my hair and by the way I play. I don’t think I play a very North-American style game,” he says. “I’m more of a skill player.
“When I get the puck I want to bring people to the edge of their seats. I just want to entertain people and be that creative guy who scores those nice goals or makes those nice plays. I just grew up following players that would bring you out of your seat. Kovalchuk, Kane. Guys who, when they get the puck, you’re excited, you jump up and want to see what they do with the puck and that’s what I want to be known for. Entertainment.”
His goal celebrations sometimes irritate opponents, but Sprong says he’s determined to follow his own path. The 37 goals he has to go with a minus-21 rating suggests he’s still in search of balance in his game, which is why some scouts see him as a top-15 pick, and others wonder if he’ll even go in the first round. “Of course, people want you to be exactly like a robot. But no one’s a robot in life," he says. "Everyone makes mistakes, everyone has their ups and downs.
"You are who you are; you shouldn’t change because the cameras are on. I’m Daniel Sprong. I am who I am. I’m not going to change because Wayne Gretzky is there. I’m going to be who I am. I’m a polite, open-minded kid who’s outgoing and proud of who I am.”
Here’s Sportsnet’s 2015 NHL Draft rankings for March:
1. (1) Connor McDavid, 6-1, 195, C, Erie (OHL) Recently had a 27-game point streak snapped. He’s averaging 2.6 points per game and is unchallenged at No. 1.
2. (2) Jack Eichel, 6-2, 196, C, Boston University (NCAA) They’re handing out “I like Eich” buttons on campus promoting the freshman forward for the Hobey Baker Award.
3. (3) Noah Hanifin, 6-3, 205, D, Boston College (NCAA) Controls the game. Has 23 points in 36 games while drawing comparisons to Rob Blake.
4. (5) Dylan Strome, 6-3, 187, C, Erie (OHL) There’s some debate about his upside and whether he can be a true No. 1 centre in the NHL. But he’s a top-five pick.
5. (4) Lawson Crouse, 6-4, 211, LW, Kingston (OHL) He's now working on a power line with Sam Bennett and Spencer Watson. Drives the net and has 28 goals.
6. (8) Ivan Provorov, 6-0, 191, D, Brandon (WHL) Since he’s been in North America for years, there seems to be little KHL worry attached to Provorov. Could he go top 5?
7. (6) Mitch Marner, 5-11, 155, C, London (OHL) With 124 points, it's starting to look like he’ll be able to fend off challenges from McDavid and Strome and win the OHL scoring title.
8. (7) Mikko Rantanen, 6-3 1/2, 211, RW, Turku (Finland) A big, strong winger and left-handed shot who prefers to play the right side and impressed at the world juniors.
9. (9) Mathew Barzal, 5-11, 175, C, Seattle (WHL) Despite missing 28 games to injury, he's now tied for team lead in scoring. Makes an impact in every game he plays.
10. (10) Zack Werenski, 6-2, 206, D, Michigan (NCAA) Great stick and poised with the puck. There's still speculation he could end up in London with the Knights next season.
11. (11) Oliver Kylington, 6-0, 180, D, Farjestad (Sweden) Scouts love his skating and he may be most mobile blueliner in the draft. But his offensive creativity is the question.
12. (12) Timo Meier, 6-1, 208, RW, Halifax (QMJHL) Up to 43 goals, Meier and Nik Ehlers have formed a formidable 1-2 punch for the Mooseheads this year.
13. (13) Nick Merkley, 5-11, 191, RW, Kelowna (WHL) Seems like a very safe bet in this area of the draft because of his hockey sense. More of a playmaker than scorer.
14. (14) Pavel Zacha, 6-3, 210, C, Sarnia (OHL) After missing a lot of hockey due to injuries and suspensions, he’s now got 33 points in 36 games. Still an appealing skill set.
15. (15) Travis Konecny, 5-10, 175, RW, Ottawa (OHL) After falling to No. 26 in Central Scouting's rankings, he's expected to move up. Currently out with an upper body injury.
16. (16) Filip Chlapik, 6-1, 194, C, Charlottetown (QMJHL) Scouts love his skill and vision, some voice concern about his skating.
17. (22) Evgeni Svechnikov, 6-2, 199, RW, Cape Breton (QMJHL) He's up to 30 goals and scouts very much liking what they see these days. A top-20 pick almost for sure.
18. (18) Kyle Connor, 6-1, 177, C, Youngstown (USHL) Now leads the USHL in scoring with 65 points in 47 games. He’s lean and needs to get stronger. Saginaw next year?
19. (17) Jakub Zboril, 6-1, 184, D, Saint John (QMJHL) Back from a mid-season MCL injury. Zboril plays with an edge and has some of the same package as Provorov.
20. (19) Colin White, 6-0, 185, C, USNTDP (USHL) Getting rolling after illness and injuries set him back. Scouts know his resume and aren’t likely to be put off by his so-so stats.
21. (21) Jeremy Roy, 6-0, 189, D, Sherbrooke (QMJHL) Seems rock solid in this area of the first round. Is a smooth-skating blueliner who can make plays.
22. (20) Daniel Sprong, 6-0, 189, RW, Charlottetown (QMJHL) Talk to two scouts and you’ll get two different opinions, often vastly different. But no one denies the skill level.
23. (23) Thomas Chabot, 6-1, 181, D, Saint John (QMJHL) A sore hip flexor held him back and now isn’t rising as quickly as he was pre-Christmas. But he’s still a good first-round bet.
24. (24) Brock Boeser, 6-0, 191, RW, Waterloo (USHL) Headed to North Dakota next fall and now has 29 goals in 49 games. He's a pro-style winger.
25. (25) Paul Bittner, 6-4, 206, LW, Portland (WHL) Scouts blow hot and cold on the big Minnesotan. But his team is hot and he’s got 33 goals and a plus-39 rating.
26. (26) Brandon Carlo, 6-5, 198, D, Tri-City (WHL) He missed games recently after being hit in the head with a puck. Still might be best stay-at-home defender in the draft.
27. (NR) Jansen Harkins, C, 6-1, 170, Prince George (WHL) Has been a solid scorer all season while playing against No. 1 centres. A smart, complete player.
28. (28) Jordan Greenway, 6-5, 222, LW, USNTDP (USHL) His younger brother, a defenceman, is also in Ann Arbor. Heading to Boston University next season.
29. (NR) Vince Dunn, D, 6-0, 185, Niagara (OHL) The IceDogs are as hot as anybody in the East, and Dunn’s a big reason why. He's sixth in OHL defence scoring with 17 goals and 53 points.
30. (30) Jake DeBrusk, 5-11 1/2, 171, LW, Swift Current (WHL) In 70 games, has 39 goals. Son of Sportsnet hockey analyst and former NHLer Louie DeBrusk.
On the radar
Jens Looke, RW, Brynas (Sweden)
Yakov Trenin, LW, Gatineau (QMJHL).
Mackenzie Blackwood, G, Barrie (OHL)
Adam Marsh, LW, Saint John (QMJHL)
Gabriel Carlsson, D, Linkoping (Sweden)
Glenn Gawdin, C, Swift Current
Adin Hill, G, Portland (WHL)
Nicolas Roy, C, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
Erik Cernak, D, Kosice (Slovakia)
Jeremy Bracco, RW, U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Christian Fischer, RW, US NTDP (USHL)
Jack Roslovic, RW, U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Thomas Novak, C, Waterloo (USHL)
Michael Spacek, F, Pardubice (Czech)
Dennis Yan, LW, Shawinigan (QMJHL)
Nicolas Meloche, D, Baie Comeau (QMJHL)
Noah Juulsen, D, Everett (WHL)
Alexander Dergachyov, C, St. Petersburg
Jonas Siegenthaler, D, Zurich (Swiss)
Blake Speers, RW, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)