Ryan Sproul is one of, if not he top defensive prospects in Detroit's system. I understand you might not think so because he has some issues in his game, but I think he remains to be one of the big parts of our future as a team. While he is nowhere near as good defensively as prospects such as Xavier Ouellet, Mattias Backman, Nick Jensen, and Alexey Marchenko, Sproul's ceiling is much higher. Why? Because he's an offensive weapon. He has a true gift with moving the puck, and that's not something you can teach. The Red Wings organization has prided itself in being able to educate young and even old players in how to play a strong defensive game. This is why I don't really worry about Ryan Sproul's sometimes silly defensive miscues. If you think about it, the Red Wings dealt with a Brian Lashoff and Jakub Kindl pairing. In my opinion, it doesn't get any lower than that. I would happily throw Ryan Sproul to the wolves over watching those two play like they have never seen a hockey game before.
Management and coaching have stated that they would like to improve their blue-line from within the organization:
"We feel we can improve our backend from within, and we got some great right-hand shots down there (Grand Rapids.)"
"Right-shot defensemen are at a premium in the league, right-hand shots that can play the power-play and Ryan Sproul has had a tremendous season."
The reason he's highly regarded is because he just finds a way to produce. He loves handling the puck, and he loves shooting. He might have one of the best shots out of any of our prospects.
Why not make Sproul a heavily-sheltered power play specialist? He's able to move the puck quickly and set up plays, as well as score with one of his wicked slap-shots:
You could, potentially, pair Sproul with Kronwall, and create a lethal pairing of offensive capabilities. Nik Kronwall is more than good enough to shelter a player like Sproul at the point. Have all of his shifts on the PP start in the offensive zone, to avoid any sort of risks.
The dreaded pinch. Something we so often see from certain defensemen on this team and usually end up cringing in horror over the sheer terror of them getting completely dusted deep in the offensive zone, which turns into a brutal turnover. Ryan Sproul has these moments, but he is learning how to control it:
Pretty slick moves to create goals for his team. It helps doing that when you shoot on your strong side. This is another thing that can be taught, and with the presence of a defensively responsible partner, Sproul can have this luxury. Much like what we see from Brendan Smith when he isn't paired with a subpar defenseman.
Believe it or not, Ryan Sproul has defensive capabilities in him. With time, and proper coaching (hey, we've got that), Sprouly can be taught the ways of responsible defending whilst still being offensively destructive on the opposing team. Here's some examples of great defensive play by Sproul:
Who could forget that hit on Derek Roy in the last game of the season? Sproul covers him, stays with his man, and completely neutralizes the zone entry that Roy had created. Call him defensively irresponsible, but that's not an easy play to make for a 21 year old playing in his first career NHL game.
So what do we have here? We have a young offensively-gifted right-handed defenseman. Is he ready for the NHL level? My opinion is, who cares? Even if he isn't entirely ready, there is only so much competition that the AHL can provide for "developing" a player. We saw it with Brendan Smith.. PK Subban was in the same draft class as Smith, and was drafter after him. Subban played two seasons in the OHL then one in the AHL. After that he was brought into Montreal on a pretty awful defense and put up 38 points. On the other hand, Brendan Smith played three seasons of college hockey with Wisconsin and then was brought to Grand Rapids to play for three seasons. I fear that when you over-ripen a player in the AHL, you completely sell the compete level of the NHL short. While you're developing a player to be dominant in the AHL, they come into the NHL and are so used to AHL play, that they get worked all over the ice. I fear that may happen with Ryan Sproul, but I really really really hope that it does not.
You really need to gauge what you have before you decide if they need to be over-ripened or not. Will it work to have Sproul in the AHL for two to three seasons then make the jump to the NHL level? I don't think so. I feel like putting him into the NHL earlier on gives him a chance to season himself for the competition that actually matters. So what if he makes some mistakes? He'll learn and develop even more. Not to mention competing at the pro-level will benefit his growth and strength.
Food for thought:
(This was as of December 25th, stats provided by @joshweissbock)
As you can see, Ryan Sproul was a monster in On-Ice GoalsFor%. If you look at these stat breakdowns, you see that when Sproul is on the ice, good things are happening. When he is off the ice, they aren't happening as frequently. Pretty impressive stuff for a kid in his first full year. 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) in 71 games.
My opinion? The 6'3" 185 lbs native from Mississauga, Ontario would be best fared for NHL competition. His offensive instincts are something that cannot be swept away, in my opinion. Small or large defensive miscues can be taught, offensive firepower cannot. Who wouldn't love to see Ryan Sproul starting all offensive zone power-play shifts paired with Niklas Kronwall? His rocket of a shot would be absolutely lethal next to Kronwall's mobility with his puck-movement. Even if Sproul has to start next season in the AHL, I think he should end it in Detroit.
Just to be clear, I think the duo of Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul is the future of this organization, and to be quite honest.. I think Ouellet is in the same boat as Sproul, just a different style of player. I would also like to see him in Detroit. Maybe I'll post more about him later on as this dreary offseason inches by.