It took Ryan Sproul 17 games to register his first point in the Ontario Hockey League, but once he broke the goose-egg, the floodgates came flying open.
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound defenseman found his offensive game after putting an assist on the board on Nov. 19, piling up 14 goals and 19 assists for 33 points in his final 45 games with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to skyrocket up mainstream scouting rankings.
The Red Wings loved what they saw and nabbed him in the second round, 55th overall, in Saturday’s NHL entry draft in St. Paul, Minn.
“He had a tough start to the year, just getting adapted, and as the year went on, he just got better and better and better,” said Red Wings director of scouting Joe McDonnell. “Early in the year he didn’t play on the power play that much and by the end, he was the quarterback of it.”
Sproul actually started the season at the junior A level with the Vaughan (Ont.) Vipers because he still intended to go the NCAA route. Without so much as an OHL intrasquad scrimmage under his belt when he finally decided to report to the Greyhounds in late September, playing major junior presented many challenges.
But he was downright impressive in the new year, piling up 11 goals and 13 assists for 24 points during a 23-game stretch from Jan. 14 to March 6, including a hat trick among a pair of four-point outings.
Only Ryan Murphy had more goals down the stretch, and Sproul finished fifth among all blueliners in goals and No. 1 among rookies. He was also second among rookie defense scoring.
“The biggest thing with him was his development from the start of the year to the end of the year,” McDonnell said. “He’s got the big booming shot from the point — he’s still weak as a noodle — but we see some good signs.”
The booming shot is what sets Sproul apart, but his game extends beyond just that in the Red Wings’ eyes.
“There’s more there than just that — that’s obviously a big plus, when you can shoot it like that, but he sees the ice well, too,” McDonnell said.
Foot-speed is one knock against Sproul, but McDonnell said he had no trouble handling the pace of the OHL after an adjustment period. Sproul also has yet to assert himself physically in the OHL, something he might be able to do as he gets stronger.
Either way, Sproul is poised to put up impressive numbers over the next few seasons in the OHL and the Red Wings are excited about it. He has the potential to run a big-league power play one day and combines that with the size and reach to be an effective defender.
“The sky’s the limit, once he fills out,” McDonnell said. “He has a lot of work to do but he has high upside.”