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Penguins make forward Daniel Sprong first Dutch-born player taken in NHL draft

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PITTSBURGH — Daniel Sprong did his best to avoid the draft projections. Some NHL experts thought the talented winger would go in the top 20. Others weren't sure Sprong would even go in the first round.

One day passed. So did half of the second round. And suddenly Sprong's ability to block it out vanished.

The 18-year-old started feeling "nervous" as names kept getting called, names that weren't his. Then the Pittsburgh Penguins jumped on the clock Saturday and he relaxed.

"I thought this could be the one,'" Sprong said.

The Penguins couldn't get to the podium fast enough, sold on the heavy shot that produced 39 goals for Charlottetown in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the skating skill that have him projected as a potential top-six NHL forward down the road.

"He was certainly a first-round player for us," Penguins co-director of amateur scouting said.

Sprong, the first player born in the Netherlands taken in the NHL draft, led a light but very specific draft haul for the Penguins. Pittsburgh added center Dominik Simon in the fifth round, winger Frederik Tiffels in the sixth and center Nikita Pavlychev in the seventh. While the organization is in serious need of forward depth after investing heavily along the blue line in recent drafts, Sexton insisted grabbing four European forwards wasn't intentional.

"It's just the way the draft tumbled, a little bit of the United Nations approach today," Sexton said. "It's good to have that mix in the organization. Mostly we're happy with the kids we got. We don't care where they're from."

Sprong moved from Amsterdam to Canada when he was in grade school to pursue his hockey career. It paid off when Pittsburgh used the 46th overall pick on the 6-foot, 180-pound player considered one of the best skaters in the draft class.

Pressed on what his strengths are, the confident Sprong didn't hesitate.

"I can score or pass, I can be a double threat," he said. "Pittsburgh has a lot of great players and I hope to play with them one day."

It will likely be a few years before Sprong gets an opportunity to pull on a Penguins jersey alongside or , though he met the two briefly during a trip to watch the team play during a stint on a developmental team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Sprong downplayed concerns about his mindset that sprouted during the run up to the draft and isn't sure it affected his slide.

"That was just something got misled or mis-storied, maybe," he said. "I don't think I'm a bad teammate or a bad attitude at all."

The draft picks were the only action by Pittsburgh's front office during two days in Miami, though not for lack of trying. General manager Jim Rutherford worked the phones but couldn't find a trade to his liking as the team tries to regroup following a first-round playoff exit against the New York Rangers.

The Penguins will keep their options open as free agency approaches beginning on Wednesday. The picks during the draft were about the long-term future. Sprong is the biggest get but the team is intrigued by Pavlychev, a massive 6-7 winger who will play for Penn State next winter.

"He has some bite to his game," Sexton said.

Pavlychev had nine goals and 10 assists for Des Moines in the USHL last season but added he needs to get stronger after growing four inches late in his junior career. He'll get a chance to refine his game with the Nittany Lions, who are making major strides in the Big Ten since moving to Division 1 in 2012.

"He's right in our backyard," Sexton said. "We'll keep an eye on him."

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