Like the Edmonton Oilers as a group, newcomer Ryan Strome hasn’t had the kind of start to this season he was hoping for. While I’m reasonably confident the Oilers are capable of bouncing back from a 2-5-0 start that has many up in arms despite better outings of late, I’m slightly less sure about Strome.
That’s not necessarily a knock on Strome, who arrived from the New York Islanders in a trade for Jordan Eberle last June 22. It’s more a case of me not having seen much of him during the four seasons he spent with the Islanders before the trade here. So far, we haven’t seen a lot to suggest that the “fresh start” players like to talk about when they get moved down the road has provided any real bump in his performance.
In that regard, the Strome for Eberle swap has been pretty much a saw-off with only early returns in. Through his first seven games with the Oilers, Strome has managed just 1-1-2. That’s one goal better than Eberle, who is 0-4-4, after eight games with the Isles. I’m guessing that goose egg in the goal column has the critics who wanted Eberle gone nodding knowingly. “See, I told you . . .”
That bit of schadenfreude doesn’t, however, do the Oilers or Strome any good. Strome was expected to pick up some of the scoring slack in Eberle’s absence in Edmonton’s top six – despite all the criticism, Eberle scored 20 goals last season – but so far he hasn’t managed to deliver much, be it in looks alongside Connor McDavid or elsewhere. Strome is not alone in that regard.
THE BOOK ON STROME
Strome, 24, selected fifth overall from the Niagara Ice Dogs by the Islanders in the 2011 Entry Draft, had what many considered a breakout season with New York in 2014-15 with 17-33-50 in 81 games. Good, not great, numbers. Strome couldn’t replicate that in the next two seasons. That made him available, and with the Oilers open to moving Eberle and his contract, the deal was made and we heard the fresh start talk bit from both ends of the trade. We’ve yet to see it, although it’s too early to say we won’t.
“One thing Ebs did do is he shot the puck a lot and we’re going to challenge Strome to do the same,” coach Todd McLellan said in pre-season. “We’ve got to get his shot totals up a little bit. With his skill level and the players he plays with he’s got to get the puck there a lot more and that will be a challenge for him . . . he’ll probably see the puck a lot and he’s got to put himself in those positions. Sometimes, players don’t shoot for a reason. We’ve got to figure that out and make sure he’s willing to shoot.”
Strome is shooting more early this season by about one shot per game. His 114 shots in 69 games (1.65) with the Islanders last season ranked 279th in the NHL. Through seven games with the Oilers, he’s taken 18 shots (2.57). At the same time, his overall shooting percentage has dropped. He’s at 5.6 right now after scoring at an 8.6 clip with the Islanders. Neither number makes opposing goaltenders sweat. That’s OK. And it is early.
Of course, we tend to forget that around here with the start the Oilers have had, especially since they’ve managed just 14 goals. That total ranks 30th in the league. That stat falls on many shoulders, not just Strome. Leon Draisaitl has missed four games. Milan Lucic has one goal. McDavid scored his three goals in the first game of the season. He’s sitting at eight points. You won’t win often with two goals a game, especially with a PK that stinks.
THE WAY I SEE IT
We’re seven games into the season and we don’t yet know where everybody fits, which is to be expected. That’s been compounded by the absence of Draisaitl, of that there is no question. When it all comes out in the wash, and that won’t happen until the 20-game mark the way I see it, we’ll have a far better idea where the Oilers are at and where all the pieces go, including Strome.
Simply put, we can’t say with any certainty where the Oilers or Strome are at yet – even if that’s what we’re prone to do around here, for better or worse. I think Strome can be the 50-point player he was that one season on Long Island. Then again, I didn’t foresee a 2-5-0 start by the Oilers, so what do I know? It’ll take time to find out where we stand on both counts, as much as that grates on a fan base that got a sniff last season after a decade of zippity-do-da.