Jim Rutherford has tipped his hand.
“I don’t view it as the clock is ticking. I don’t like deadlines in a situation like this,” Rutherford told Jenn Menendez of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“It’s more about what’s best for the player and best for the team. Right now, we have a player that is capable of helping the team. He’s good with the puck. He takes the puck to the net. And what’s best for his development? I don’t look at any timelines. I just look at what’s best for the player. Daniel, he has done very well, and I really don’t see that changing.”
Wednesday's rivalry tilt versus the Washington Capitals will mark Sprong's seventh NHL game. Should he skate in a 10th contest, the 2015 second-round pick will burn one year of his affordable entry-level contract.
Sprong has scored one goal and seen a modest 10:13 in average ice time in this young season, but he has graduated to the third line from the fourth and has been given a look on the second unit of the Penguins' struggling power-play.
“He’s like players who have been in the league for years,” Rutherford said.
“There’s still things to be learned away from the puck. But from the day he was drafted, he came into development camp and into rookie tournament and he’s looked like he’s older than he is, and more mature. I believe he’ll continue to do that, and he’ll continue to develop.”
If Rutherford opts to save Sprong for next season, the winger will return to Charlottetown of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey, where he racked up 88 points in 68 games last season.