But the Charlottetown Islanders star forward remains focused on his future even as he deals with the cameras, frequent media coverage, various draft ranking updates and a citizenship application that's slowly crawling through Canada's immigration system.
"I'm playing for my future," Sprong said in a recent interview. "I think it's fair to say at the beginning of the year I was focused a lot on off-the-ice things with rankings, what people were saying about me, writing about me. I put a lot of pressure on myself."
It's easy to understand how a 17-year-old could get lost in the hoopla that comes with being the subject of consistent scrutiny and exposure.
On Thursday, Sprong was preparing to have a camera crew from a major sports network follow him around for the fifth time this season to film every part of his life for a pre-draft television documentary about some of the game's best prospects.
It was a bit of a distraction at first, but Sprong said he and his teammates are embracing the extra attention. Islanders defenceman David Henley is also featured on the show.
“It’s cool, and it’s an honour to be selected for it,” said Sprong, whose QMJHL team is 17-17-1-1 and fourth in its division. “The team has some fun with it, and it’s neat to be a part of.”
A native of the Netherlands, Sprong's family moved to Montreal when he was seven so he would have a better opportunity at a hockey career. He flourished at every level in minor hockey, and was rewarded in 2013 when he was taken in the first round (13th overall) in the Quebec League draft by the Islanders.
Sprong burst onto the scene in his rookie season, leading all underage scorers with 68 points in 67 games. He’s followed that up with a solid second year, posting 20 goals and 20 assists through 36 games after an early-season lull.
He scored twice against Halifax on Thursday and has now scored four times in his last two games.
But despite his success, Sprong’s Dutch roots have prevented him from suiting up for Canadian national team programs. His agent and lawyer are working on his behalf to complete his bid for citizenship, but until his application is accepted he won’t be able to play for Team Canada at any level.
And that’s a shame, said Islanders general manager Grant Sonier, because Hockey Canada has expressed interest in Sprong.
“He considers himself Canadian, he loves Canada, and once the paperwork is worked out, I’m sure Hockey Canada will be happy,” said Sonier. “A lot of hockey people will be glad to get him on that international stage.”
Sprong agrees he’d like to have the issue resolved soon than later, but said he has “no idea” when that will be.
In the meantime, he has set his sights on the NHL Entry Draft in June and finding a way to climb through the first-round rankings. Considered an offensive dynamo, Sprong possesses Patrick Kane-like offensive awareness and evasiveness, said Sonier.
“He’s an excellent skater with incredible hand-eye co-ordination, and a tremendous shot,” Sonier said.
But he isn’t without his blemishes. There's some concern among scouts — and even his own GM — that Sprong's defensive zone play needs to improve.
“I’m offensive-minded, and I think of that first before defence sometimes,” Sprong admits. “Maybe leaving the zone too early to get a breakaway, thinking ahead a little bit. I’m working at being better in the d-zone, and my goal is to be a 200-foot player and a threat in all three zones.”Suggest a correction