Dylan Strome: From Savior to Afterthought, But Should He Be?
Once savior, now punching bag Dylan Strome made the Arizona Coyotes roster (again). What happens this month is just part of the process, not a final declaration.
When he was drafted, Arizona Coyotes rookie Dylan Strome was to be the future savior of the franchise.
A few short years later, most everyone outside of the organization has given up on any hope of that coming to fruition.
Somewhere between development camp in the summer and rookie camp in the fall in 2016, Strome went from “ready to make the leap” to “probably shouldn’t be on the team.” By training camp he was being overshadowed by fellow rookie centerman Christian Dvorak and the “b” word started getting floated around.
It got worse for Strome when he was surprisingly scratched from the Coyotes’ opening night roster. While his teammates and fellow rookies skated out in pre-game introductions with butterflies ready for the season to begin, Strome headed back to the locker room to change back into his suit.
Instead of fighting for the puck on face-offs, he’d been relegated to nachos in the stands. A year later Strome is set to make his second debut with the Arizona Coyotes.
Last year he was buried on the fourth line, but this year it looks like new head coach Rick Tocchet is going to ice him with Brendan Perlini and Lawson Crouse on the third line for opening night. That’s good news for Strome as he’s going to have at least one legitimate offensive option beside him, and one would figure if anyone could coax some of the latent offensive ability out of Crouse it might as well be Dylan Strome.
Tocchet’s new approach is more agreeable with #20’s skillset as well. While Strome is not exactly a guy who can skate with pace, he and the other young, dynamic Coyotes forwards will get the green light from Tocchet to do their thing in the offensive zone. That’s a far cry from his previous stint in Glendale with Dave Tippett behind the bench.
Despite those things, the pessimism persists.
He’s too slow. He’s not strong enough. He isn’t developing quickly enough. His scoring won’t translate.
If Strome had an approval rating poll among Coyotes faithful, he’d be near record lows. The “b” word is the elephant in the desert lingering over every shift that he takes. Any negative plays are seen as reinforcement that Strome was the wrong pick and he will never be a franchise piece.
The question is why? What changed in Dylan Strome’s game between the 2015 training camp and 2016 training camp to turn fan and media opinions so?
By my estimation, not a whole lot. In the 2016 camp, he was better at what he was already good at and his skating deficiencies were still apparent. Beyond that, the only additional knock on Strome was that comparitively he didn’t already have a developed two-way game like Dvorak, who in preseason emerged as NHL ready.
The real reason for opinions souring on Strome was already mentioned above. He’s not Eichel. He’s not McDavid. Hell, he’s not Auston Matthews.
He’s not flashy and he never will be. His impact on the ice is not readily apparent until the puck is in the net. Strome will never blow by opponents like the players drafted before him. There are no highlight reel plays to point to.
He is efficient and thoughtful, and his playing style is the type that sees players labeled as “lazy”, “lethargic”, and “not engaged”. He’s still likely another year or two from filling out his 6’3 frame, but was expected to make an immediate impact like his draft counterparts. It didn’t happen.
The truth is there are more than a few centers in the NHL who took a while to develop and didn’t immediately make an impact like McDavid, Eichel, and Matthews. Ryan Johansen, Ryan Getzlaf, and Mark Scheifele all come to mind as players who emerged as top line centers after early struggles.
In fact, both Johansen and Scheifele have a very similar trajectory compared to Strome’s current one.
Johansen was drafted in 2010 and did not develop into an actual top six centerman until the 2013-14 season. He spent one season in junior, parts of two seasons in Columbus where he accomplished little-to-nothing, and then broke out for 63 points in his 3rd NHL season.
Scheifele is an even better comparison in style with Strome, and he took even longer to develop than Johansen.
When drafted in 2011 Scheifele also faced concerns about his skating and his weight at 6’3 and only 184 pounds. He made the Jets out of camp after being drafted but had little impact and was sent back to junior. In 2012, he again made the Jets out of camp but couldn’t stick and was demoted. It wasn’t until his third season in 2013 that Scheifele got a full season of NHL experience, and even so he put up just 34 points. He followed that with a respectable 49 points in 2014.
It all changed in 2015, however, when Scheifele produced 61 points and emerged as a top line center.
It took him parts of four NHL seasons to grow into his frame and put things together, but put them together he did. In 2016 he scored 82 points in 79 games, producing at better than a point per game.
Good thing the Jets didn’t give up on him, eh?
Fans don’t seem to want to entertain the fact that the wait might be longer than anticipated for Dylan Strome.
When Clayton Keller lights up the arena with his skill and speed, Dylan Strome looks like a Ford Focus next to a Ferrari. Christian Dvorak is stalwart in the defensive zone and Strome is a bit of a mess, and those are the only two comparisons that anyone seems to care about that don’t involve McDavid and Eichel.
They aren’t the ones that matter, however. Scheifele and Johansen have much more in common with Strome than Dvorak or Keller ever will.
The truth is there’s a few years yet before Strome is a finished product.
Maybe he sticks and scores 30 points this season like Dvorak did last year. Maybe he doesn’t and he ends up in Tucson. Maybe he proves everyone wrong and puts up 50-plus. We really don’t know, but all three outcomes are entirely plausible.
Don’t give up on Dylan Strome.
He’s not there yet, but there’s a pretty healthy list of players his size who weren’t there at age 20 either.