There’s nothing like a feel-good story in the sports world and for Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defenseman Ryan Sproul, the 2010-11 season unspooled in a very nice way.
The campaign began with the 6-foot-3, 185-pound blueliner playing Jr. A hockey for the Vaughan Vipers and ended with his name being called 55th overall in the draft by the Detroit Red Wings – a team that has a pretty good track record of developing talent.
“When I started in Jr. A, I had more NCAA offers, so I decided to stay back,” Sproul said. “A few weeks later, I went up to the Soo thinking it was my best opportunity to make my dream come true, which was to play in the NHL.”
Michigan, Lake Superior State and Clarkson were all in the running for Sproul’s future services, but the young and struggling Greyhounds offered the longer Ontario League schedule and an opportunity to contribute to a young team. The Mississauga, Ont., native took full advantage, leading the team in scoring by defenseman with 14 goals and 33 points in 61 games – stats made all the more remarkable considering he didn’t tally any offensive numbers until his 16th game with the Soo.
Once he got on track, Sproul used an excellent stride not usually associated with a big man to his advantage.
“He’s a very good, mobile defenseman,” said defense partner Gianluca Curcuruto. “He has a great shot and if you give him the puck, he’ll know where to put it.”
It’s funny how quickly things can change in junior hockey. The doormat Greyhounds nabbed another big, mobile defenseman at the draft this year in Darnell Nurse, while Curcuruto was second behind Sproul in defense scoring with 26 points, largely done as a 16-year-old. Now Sproul will be looked upon to provide some leadership on the back end and help Nurse get acclimated.
“A lot of our ‘D’ are pretty young and hopefully we can help him as much as we can,” Sproul said. “He’s going to help our team a lot. We’re a young team and we need guys like that.”
With a 26-year-old wunderkind in new GM Kyle Dubas and a host of forwards recently drafted by NHL teams (Daniel Catenacci, David Broll, Nick Cousins), all of a sudden the Hounds look like an exciting bunch for 2011-12 and a very different franchise than the one Sproul came to late in September.
“I was the seventh ‘D’ at the beginning of the year,” Sproul said. “Guys like Brandon Archibald got traded and it helped me. Hopefully next year it helps me even more.”
Sproul was one of the highest risers on NHL draft charts this past season, clocking in as the 124th-ranked North American skater on Central Scouting’s mid-term list before shooting up to 54th on the final chart. Since goalies and Europeans have their own lists for Central Scouting, going 55th overall meant Sproul continued to rise even higher in the minds of the Red Wings. His attitude likely had something to do with it.
“He worked hard after every practice,” Curcuruto said. “He really focused on getting better and it showed.”
Sproul still wants to work on the defensive side of his game, but with his goal-scoring prowess on the power play (eight of his tallies came with the man advantage) and Curcuruto’s playmaking ability on the other point (25 of his 26 points were assists), the Greyhounds will have teams wondering which player to zone in on next season.
Unfortunately for opponents, there may not be a good answer.
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