At the beginning of the season, I thought the expectations that the team and many fans were placing on Ryan Strome were unrealistically high. He played all 82 Oiler games this year and now we have a chance to review what he accomplished and try to project moving forward.
In September the Oilers were full-steam-ahead on a path that had Strome playing with Connor McDavid, essentially directly taking Jordan Eberle’s old spot. On September 15th I wrote this:
Ryan Strome is entering the 2017-2018 season as a reclamation project but with the expectations of a top six forward. If he joins the squad and becomes the newest Pat Maroon – a perfect fit with McDavid and an offensive producer – then that will be fantastic. If that’s not the case, we really shouldn’t be surprised though. He hasn’t been the player the Oilers are telegraphing him to be in quite some time.
Well, the time with McDavid that was apparently going to boost Strome past his previous career highs didn’t materialize. Before Training Camp was officially over he had already been removed from those duties. You’ll recall Kailer Yamamoto had beaten Strome and then it was all downhill from there. In total, Strome played 55:18 with McDavid in 5v5 play. Strome played more with Ethan Bear, who didn’t get called up until March, than he did with 97.
Strome bounced around the wings of various lines while the Oilers were running their top three centermen down the middle. It wasn’t until McLellan switched back to having one of Draisaitl or RNH paired with McDavid that Strome established himself as the pivot of his own line, albeit the third. To his credit, he seemed most comfortable by eye in that position. Either that, or it’s simply the way we remember the coaching staff opting for some stability instead of constantly juggling Strome around.
There was some suggestion that second half Strome was better overall than first half Strome, so Oiler fans could expect him to start the next season strong. However, once again facts get in the way of a good narrative. Strome’s first half saw him score 17 points and his second half saw him jump remarkably to…also 17 points. It was a consistently inconsistent effort from beginning to end.
The player, who was acquired by giving up a legitimate top-six talent, faced a mountain of expectations early on. The player he was traded for and the role he pencilled into placed him in a bad situation. Somehow reports of the team being unhappy with their newest forward started to pop up in late October. The reality is that Ryan Strome’s 82GP, 13-21-34 season is exactly what the Oiler management and coaching staff should have expected all along.
In 2015-2016 Strome produced 0.39 points per game.
In 2016-2017 Strome produced 0.43 points per game.
In 2017-2018 Strome produced 0.41 points per game.
This is who Ryan Strome is. He had two full seasons of essentially the same production as he gave this year directly before he was acquired by the Oilers. Once in a presser this year, Todd McLellan said that the team had been “tricked” by his draft pedigree into expecting higher offense from Strome. That might have been true, but it’s a damning statement on Edmonton’s player acquisition process if someone who (at the time) had 273 NHL games (Regular Season and Playoff) under his belt was traded for because of his draft position from six years earlier.
The Oilers had 15 forwards play at least 200 minutes 5v5 this season. Ryan Strome is firmly in the middle of the pack for almost all the advanced metrics. He is eighth in CF%, FF%, and SF%. He’s ninth in GF% but he’s fourth in SCF%. In total scoring, Strome was tied with Lucic for fourth on the club with his 34 points. However, in 5v5 P/60, he was seventh among the forwards who played those 200 minutes.
I will only include this because centermen are traditionally also judged by their faceoffs. Strome took the fourth most number of faceoffs on the Oilers this season. However, he only beat McDavid in faceoff percentage. In the final half of the season, when he was almost exclusively a center, his faceoff percentage was actually just slightly lower than his first half.
Draisaitl 1198 – 56.1% FOW
McDavid 909 – 41.4% FOW
RNH 767 – 48.8% FOW
Strome 671 – 44.3% FOW
Letestu 649 – 53.5% FOW
In his first four seasons with the Islanders, Strome’s faceoff percentage was 44.1%, 46.7%, 41.1%, and 42.7% respectively. He’s 24 years old and age plus experience can help in the faceoff department, but there is a relative consistency to these numbers.
When we take all of this information together, I think the proper conclusion is that we should expect more of the same from Strome moving forward. This was by all indications a typical Strome season. He delivered exactly what should have been expected by all reasonable parties. He is a middle of the pack player who can go through short bursts that remind you he has plenty of talent, and longer stretches of invisibility.
The real question in front of the Oilers now is, “What number makes sense?”. That number I’m referring to is obviously the cap hit associated with his next contract. In order to retain his rights, the Oilers need to offer Strome $3M as a qualifying offer. He can reject and the Oilers can negotiate a lower number, but they have to first offer him that.
There are plenty of examples of centermen Strome’s age with a similar number of games and points signing in the $2.75M to $3.1M range. Edmonton is under a little more financial pressure moving forward because of the McDavid and Draisaitl contracts (and Russell, Lucic, Sekera, Nurse’s new deal, etc).
Ryan Strome might not be the player they had envisioned, but he seems like halfway decent bet to cover the needs of the third line. Perhaps we’d feel even better if Lucic hadn’t dropped the ball in his second half. I think he’s done enough to prove that this is who he is and this is what we can expect. And that’s just fine.