Dylan Strome: He’s Just Not Ready

By Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie)

During this past offseason, I didn’t hide my feelings about Mitch Marner and Dylan Strome. I suggested that while both were far too good for junior hockey and would have nothing more to learn from being sent back to the OHL, that doesn’t necessarily mean they were ready for the NHL.

I was right about one, but wrong about the other.

As we’ve seen through six games with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Mitch Marner is proving he is ready to be a full-time NHL player. He’s still got a few bad habits that most junior players need to grow out of – bad penalties, starting the breakout too early – but for the most part his elite offensive game more than makes up for them.

Dylan Strome is a different story altogether. The third overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft is showing the ‘too good for the OHL’ does not equate to being ready for the NHL.

Strome has only been in the lineup for half of Arizona’s first six games, and it’s looking like coach Dave Tippett is having a hard time getting comfortable with the 19-year old. Unlike fellow rookie Lawson Crouse, who can benefit from playing a fourth line role as he develops, Strome needs to be in the top-9 if he’s going to be in the lineup – and long as he’s being outplayed by Chrisitan Dvorak, there just isn’t a spot for him.

The ideal place for Dylan Strome  – and Crouse for that matter – to play this season is Tucson. He would be playing against better competition, he’d be close to the Coyotes’ coaching and development staff, and the franchise would have a marquee name playing on their brand new AHL team. But alas, the NHL-CHL agreement prevents Strome from playing with the Roadrunners until the OHL season is over. So it’s either the NHL or back to junior one last time.

Whether Dylan Strome wants to admit it or not, the issue is his skating. He doesn’t have elite speed and while he’s big and strong enough to make up for it in junior, that style won’t fly in the NHL – not yet. He is going to have to adapt his game a little – rely on his instincts with the puck more than anything else.

Strome plays a style of game similar to Joe Thornton. He doesn’t wow you with speed the way many young stars in the game do. He is a more cerebral player, one that slows the shift down to his pace in order to use his vision and puck skills. It’s a style that can still be successful in the NHL, just one that takes longer to adapt.

No, Strome is not a bust. In fact, from watching both players in their draft + 1 seasons, he is ahead of where Max Domi was at the same age. With the way the Coyotes are handling his time in the early season, it really looks as though they want him in Arizona with the development staff as opposed to destroying the OHL one more time.

If they continue to play him once a week, it’s very likely that the Coyotes strategy is to get him in the lineup for9 games by early-December. At that point, the team could assign him to Canada’s World Junior team where he would spend the next month. After the World Junior Championship is over, Strome would likely be sent back to junior for the last month of the season, allowing him to be assigned to Tucson as soon as Erie’s season is over.

It seems like a tough road for one of the prized prospects in the organization, but it’s one that might be necessary for Strome’s development. He might be in for a frustrating season, but it’s likely that his game will be better off for it.

Arizona has shown a willingness to be patient with the prospects in the past, and in a season that is starting to look like another development one for the young team – being patient with Strome is almost certainly the best course of action.
**After seeing the over-abundance of attack adds towards Justin Trudeau during our election season – a reference I hope wasn’t too lost on my American friends – I had a request for Twitter, and as expected, our good buddy Mike Fail came through in record time.

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