Oct. 14, 2013
by Alan Cross – griffinshockey.com
Within the current world of Detroit Red Wings prospects, a handful of players has already made a distinct impression on the watchful eyes from above. One of those players comes in the form of highly-touted defenseman Ryan Sproul. Not only did he begin his first full season as a Grand Rapids Griffin this year, but he also started the next phase toward becoming a full-time winged wheel.
For Sproul, there is a lot at stake.
The Mississauga, Ontario, native was Detroit’s 3rd choice, 55th overall, in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. After finishing his OHL career with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Sproul skated with the Griffins in two late-season games in April. Shortly thereafter, he served as a “black ace” for Grand Rapids in the first two rounds of the Calder Cup Playoffs but never saw the ice.
During his time with the Greyhounds, he posted an astounding 149 points (54-95—149) and 139 penalty minutes in 170 games. Sproul had back-to-back 20-goal seasons before joining the Griffins and registered 46 assists in the 2012-13 season alone. Courtesy of his outstanding scoring stretch last season, Sproul led the OHL’s defensemen in points and eventually captured CHL Defenseman of the Year honors.
“It was a huge accomplishment for me. It’s a great award, and I was going up against guys like Ryan Murphy, who is playing in the NHL right now, and Cody Ceci, who is a top-rated guy,” said Sproul. “There really are no words to explain how excited I was.”
Despite his past successes, he is eager for new accomplishments.
“That’s in my past now. It’s just there in the back of my head that it happened. I got the ring and the trophy for it, but that’s that. It’s only about the future from now on.”
As an offensive defenseman, Sproul’s deadliest weapon is perhaps his slap shot. His 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame grants him the ability to fire wicked shots from the blueline, and that shot has been one of the major contributors to his success. The power and speed of his heavy artillery often leaves defending goaltenders befuddled and wondering how the puck made its way into the net.
“I give a lot of credit to my brother, actually, who is a goalie. I used to shoot on him all the time,” said Sproul. “I think the slap shot mainly came with me gaining weight and getting bigger. I always had an alright shot, but I started working on it in my rookie year in the OHL when I was on the ice after practice.”
Despite Sproul entering this season with the odds stacked in his favor, the adjustment to professional play could be a rude awakening even for someone who had such a highly successful junior career.
In fact, it’s practically commonplace for rookie players to stumble across a few roadblocks as they enter the league. Some are able to make the transition easily by hard work and determination, while others fall to the wayside as they succumb to personal frustrations.
Second-year Griffins forward Tomas Jurco is the most recent example of a highly skilled player who initially struggled with success as a rookie. During juniors, he was a major contributor for the QJMHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs in their back-to-back President’s Cup-winning seasons. Jurco tallied 124 points (61-63—124) from 2010-12, dancing his way into the AHL.
Despite all of his junior accomplishments, Jurco had trouble finding his footing early during his first year in Grand Rapids. By the time the Griffins entered the playoffs, though, he was one of the most dangerous players in the lineup. Jurco fulfilled his potential by tallying 14 points (8-6—14) during the postseason, including the series-clinching goal against the Oklahoma City Barons in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals.
Still, Jurco had to learn how to be successful as a professional through a proven process, altering the very game that made him successful in the first place. Sproul potentially faces the same period of adjustment.
Fending off any initial rookie demons, Sproul scored two goals in an 8-1 victory over the Rochester Americans in the season opener. After three games, he still leads Griffins defensemen in goals and is the only player on the team to have tallied multiple goals in a single game.
He remains humble.
“The two goals are just part of the process. I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team. Scoring is one of my attributes, so I’ll definitely keep that up as much as I can.”
Regardless of the uncertain ascent ahead, he is equipped with a mentality geared towards adaptation and change, and he’s willing to do whatever is necessary to excel as a member of the team.
“It’s my first year coming into the league and I will pretty much do whatever I can. If coach Jeff Blashill needs me to be a defensive defenseman, that’s what I’m going to do. If he needs me to score goals, that’s what I’m going to do. I will do whatever I can to help the team repeat the championship.”