This is one part of a player-by-player Year in Review series we’ll be doing over the next couple months as we look back on the 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers season.
2017-18 Edmonton Oilers No. 18: Ryan Strome
GP: 82, G: 13, A: 21, PTS: 34
Being a former fifth-overall pick who scored at a prolific rate in the OHL acquired in a one-for-one deal in exchange for Jordan Eberle is going to create lofty expectations. That was the story of Ryan Strome last season.
When you consider his draft pedigree and the All-Star he was traded for, Strome was very underwhelming last season. But when you consider what Strome had been for the New York Islanders in the previous two seasons before he was dealt, his performance in Edmonton perfectly matched what realistic expectations should have been.
Strome put up 34 points in 82 games last season, good for a 0.41 point-per-game clip. Over his 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons with the Islanders, Strome scored 58 points in 140 games, good for — you guessed it! — 0.41 point-per-game clip! So as underwhelming as 34 points in 82 games seems to be, it’s really what should have been expected from Strome in his age 24 season given what he had done previously.
The one wrench in that projection, though, is Strome’s apparent breakout year in 2014-15. The Islanders were good that season. They finished with a 47-28-7 record and scored the third-most goals in the league. John Tavares and Kyle Okposo were dynamite together, Frans Nielsen anchored a great shutdown line, and, right in the middle of it, was n effective second line with Strome, Anders Lee, and Brock Nelson.
I think that 50-point season in 2014-15 led to the heightened expectations for Strome last year. It’s difficult to say what the cause of Strome’s collapse from that apparent breakout season was, but, after what he did in 2015-16 and 2016-17, it’s pretty clear who he is as a player. Despite it being a somewhat underwhelming return for a player like Jordan Eberle — who scored 25 goals with the Islanders last year — he can still be a serviceable player for the Oilers moving forward. The key is putting him in a role to thrive and letting go of the expectations attached to his draft pedigree and who he was traded for.
I think the Oilers might have expected something a little different from Strome when they got him. Given the fact he was acquired one-for-one in a deal for the team’s top-scoring right winger and the organization didn’t add a replacement right winger in free agency over the off-season, it’s reasonable to assume they expected Strome to play a big role in replacing Eberle’ offence.
After last season, though, I think we can safely say that Strome isn’t going to be that player. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as Strome can still be a valuable player to the Oilers so long as he’s put in the right situation.
Of all forwards on the Oilers last season, Strome bounced around in more different roles and situations than probably anybody else. He spent time on the right wing with Leon Draisaitl (193:43), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (105:04), and Connor McDavid (56:16), and as a centre with just about every winger you could imagine, like JJ Khaira (263:16), Jesse Puljujarvi (237:55), Milan Lucic (216:19), Drake Caggiula (206:49), and Mike Cammalleri (174:40). It’s pretty easy to see why Strome had a tough time getting into a rhythm and finding a role on the team.
Todd (McLellan) mixes up the lines here, which is a good thing, but at the same time, if the team is struggling and there are new guys, it’s tough to get into a little bit of a rhythm… I feel like now I have a valued role on the team. More than any season in the NHL, I’ve really got to play my true position for the last half of the year here, taken a step up in the leadership role on the penalty kill, I can chip in on the power play here and there. I’ve started to carve out a little niche here.” Source.
One place Strome thrived last year was later on in the season when him and JJ Khaira were paired up on the team’s third line. Strome and Khaira as a pair played 263:16 even strength minutes together and had a very good shot on goal differential of 55.8 per cent and a solid goal differential split right down the middle.
As I talked about when I wrote about Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers need to be better when Connor McDavid is off the ice in order to be successful. Strome, though not the consistent 20-goal scorer Eberle was or even the 50-point player he appeared to be in his breakout season in 2014-15, can help the team do that. So long as Strome plays in a role he can thrive in, which is the team’s third centre with good, checking wingers like Khaira, he can help the team.