Moving on with our player previews, today we’ve got a two-fer on our hands with Ryan Sproul and Robbie Russo. Separated by just one month of age, the two young right-shooting defensemen will (probably) be looking to improve their standings with the Wings this season. I say probably because only one of the two has a contract right now.
Ryan Sproul: 1-year remaining at $650K (indexed upward from $625K due to NHL minimum salary requirements) - Expires RFA with arbitration rights. Waiver Eligible.
Robbie Russo: Currently unsigned RFA. Waiver exempt
Sproul is the 6’4” 212-pound 2011 2nd round pick of the Red Wings who won the most-outstanding OHL defenseman award in his last year of juniors and who has put up solid, but not jaw-dropping numbers in three years of AHL experience. He’s known more for his offensive instincts and booming slapshot than for stifling in-zone defense. Despite his size, Sproul does not have a reputation for physical play.
Russo is the 6’0” 200-pounder taken in the 4th round of the same 2011 draft where Sproul went. Russo was an Islanders pick who went the college free agent route after a complete career at Notre Dame. He was the captain of the Gold medal-winning Team USA squad for the 2011 IIHF World Juniors. Russo is also known more for his offense, but in more of a puck-moving/passing style. At the NHL level, he doesn’t really stand out one way or the other.
Last Season’s Performance
Between the two players, the Wings got 46 games with 7 points and a -6 rating. However, it’s important to separate that all seven of those points are Sproul’s and that the Russo’s contribution to that combined +/- was a +2. None of their games overlapped, as Russo’s call-up was a response to Sproul’s knee injury on March 4th. Their usage was similar, but not identical. Russo had two more even-strength minutes and one more PK minute per game, while Sproul made up time with two more PP minutes per game played (with three of Sproul’s points, including his lone goal coming on the man advantage). Russo spent more than 80% of his even-strength ice time alongside Xavier Ouellet while Sproul was caught in the blender and didn’t get more than 30% with any one partner - Niklas Kronwall was Sproul’s most-common pairing.
If you want a good idea of how they performed, here are their similarity scores to other defensemen their age, as put together by Prashanth Iyer (you can read all about the methods which go into these scores in this article from The Athletic, which is not paywalled)
It’s not all terrible, as there are some names you’re sure to recognize, but also being compared to Derek Meech is not likely great for one’s career.
This Season’s Expectations
With Russo, it’s kind of hard to say because I’m not entirely sure what’s going to happen with his contract. The Wings have too many defensemen and the Griffins are getting pretty full there too. It’s reasonable to assume Detroit wants to bring him back to retain whatever value he has, but this is the kind of player I might expect to wander off to Europe for a short while (*cough*).
If Russo is back on a short-term deal, his waiver exempt status should put him solidly in Grand Rapids on the depth chart unless there’s another spate of injuries, including to Ryan Sproul.
As for Sproul, The fact that it’s not possible to have a cap hit on the Wings smaller than his, combined with his waiver eligibility might make him valuable enough to keep around as a roster spot. His ACL injury in March might mean he’s not ready to go at the start of the season and his spot as a middling and aging prospect having again been surpassed on the depth chart by a different promising righty (Nick Jensen) means he’ll have to show the organization that he deserves another shot to showcase the promise hinted of him at lower levels, but there’s a really good chance Ryan Sproul isn’t a Red Wing by the end of this season. It’s rough considering a guy still a few months short of his 25th birthday a reclamation project, so instead of doing that, I’ll just say that this season is the edge of the precipice of that label for Sproul. A lot can happen this season for him and he could very well put it all together.