The Arizona Coyotes are coming to town today – and they’ve brought up a familiar face just in time for their first series matchup of the year!
Dylan Strome got the nod to come up from the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners following the Thanksgiving weekend, and he’ll get his first appearance on the NHL roster since the first week of the season.
Most want to chat about the first-ever NHL McDavid vs. Strome showdown, and for understandable reasons. The pair were best friends and teammates in Erie, drafted two spots apart in 2015, and remain close to this day. It’s not like anyone is expecting Strome to dominate his predecessor as Otters captain, but the sentimental aspect is certainly there.
What’s more intriguing, though, is the other familiar name Strome will face – his own.
Dylan Strome was drafted third overall in 2015, four years after his older brother, Ryan, was taken fifth overall by the New York Islanders.
The elder Strome never really clicked in Long Island and Brooklyn, spending time in the AHL as recently as the 2015-16 NHL season.
He was finally dealt out this summer, getting moved to Edmonton in a direct swap for Jordan Eberle.
Since arriving with the Oilers, Ryan has been a mixed bag. The team has gotten 11 points (4G, 7A) in 24 games of action (good for sixth on the team in scoring), and he costs just $2.5 million against the cap. That extra cap space, in theory, makes up for the five goals and six points that Eberle has on Strome this year in one fewer game – although Eberle also has about 1:30 more ice time per game than the older Strome.
It’s not like he’s been ‘Matt Beleskey to Boston’ bad, but there’s still that sense that Ryan Strome just isn’t what everyone hoped he would be. Expectations can be tough to manage when you’re traded for a Jordan Eberle in a one-for-one deal.
Down in Arizona, there’s a similar sentiment.
Like Ryan, Dylan’s year has been a mixed bag.
The middle Strome brother started out this season, like he did the one prior, on the Coyotes’ NHL roster.
Like the year before, though, he struggled to keep up with the game at the highest level of play. He won just 31 percent of his face-offs, taking only three shots across two games and posting some of the worst possession numbers on the Arizona roster to date. Although Arizona lost those first two games (and the next 10 after that), their matchups were close; Dylan was not.
He was sent down to the AHL to get more conditioning at the lower level of play, where he’s absolutely caught fire.
Through just 15 AHL games, Strome has eight goals and 26 points, leading the Roadrunners in scoring by five points over fellow first-round pick Nick Merkley.
So far, 20 of Strome’s 26 points have been primary points, with just six of his 18 assists coming as secondary apples.
When you take away his power-play points, though, his numbers plummet. Of Strome’s 26 points so far, just 10 of them are even-strength; while he’s second in scoring across the AHL in all situations, his even-strength numbers have him drop down to 33rd. That’s a huge plummet and remains a significant concern when considering how he’ll do back up with the Arizona lineup.
He’s projected to be shifted from center to wing for his first game back in the NHL – a huge blow for the team, which expected their next bona fide pivot from the top-three selection – but the hope is, in theory, that he’ll ease into the game and fully hit his stride before long.
Which, of course, brings us to tonight.
Both Strome brothers were expected to be the Next Big Thing, and so far both have fallen short of expectations. Arizona’s 2016 first round picks have already surpassed their Strome, and Edmonton’s newest center has already received his requisite team criticism just a few months in.
Part of it has been their skating; both brothers were noticeably slow on their feet in their draft years, and have yet to fully address it as a part of their game at the NHL level.
As they face off against each other, though, their footwork will be just a small sliver of what people are looking for.
A quarter of the NHL season has already passed. If Dylan Strome plays out the rest of the year at Gila River Arena, he’ll use up his rookie season with near certainty he won’t be in the Calder conversation at all. After Mitch Marner’s remarkable rookie campaign, that’s particularly ugly for Arizona – especially since it seems possible Strome may spend time on the wing, and even more so given that Dougie Hamilton was reportedly on the table.
Then, there’s Ryan Strome. While the Oilers are still statistically ahead of Arizona in the standings, it’s largely due to Arizona’s catastrophic start to the year. They’re 6-7-2 since winning their first game of the year; if they continue to play with the improvements they’ve shown post-Louis Domingue, they could overtake Edmonton rather quickly.
It isn’t Ryan Strome’s fault that the Oilers are losing, just as it isn’t Connor McDavid’s, or Leon Draisaitl’s – and just as it wasn’t Taylor Hall’s two years ago or Jordan Eberle’s in the years before that. But if Strome and the Oilers lose to Strome and the Coyotes, while Eberle and the Islanders keep winning, it certainly isn’t going to put him on the right end of that particular trade.
Things could always turn around for both brothers.
A friend loves to remind me that Joe Thornton only put up seven points in his rookie NHL season; perhaps, with strong parallels between the prospect reports for Jumbo Joe and Dylan, there’s a similar path in the younger Strome’s future.
And we’ve seen Cam Talbot turn his season around in the past. Once his twins stop walking into tables, corners, walls, and doors, trying to pull down all the dangerous objects around his house (why no, I’m definitely not going through that at my own home right now), maybe his sleep will return and we’ll see the Vezina-worthy goaltender we saw last year. That, really, is all it should take to turn things around – and once the winning starts, maybe Ryan Strome will level out in his new home, as well.
For now, though, this seems to be a meeting of two brothers at a tipping point in their careers. They’ll face down as siblings, but also as top five picks we’re expecting more from; maybe, the friendly rivalry will bring out just that.