A word-for-word transcript of my conversation with NHLN’s Managing Editor on Saturday night:
Me: but um, hey, can i write about dylan strome?
Cam: Sure, what are you thinking?
Me: something like “a case for the 29th place Arizona Coyotes to keep Dylan Strome in the lineup for more than one game every week and a half” sort of deal + whether it’d be beneficial for him to be back in Erie after world juniors!
Cam: Yeah sure!
There goes that.
As of Sunday afternoon, the Erie Otters are a heck of a lot stronger — and they’re already the best team in the OHL with a record of 16-5-2, and Strome’s return will undoubtedly make them Memorial Cup favorites. This also clears up Canada’s World Juniors roster picture and lends them some stability, as they’re now certain to ice Strome and Seattle Thunderbirds center Mat Barzal down the middle.
But is this the best move for Strome and the Coyotes?
The Coyotes clearly felt that Strome wasn’t ready to play in the NHL full-time. And to be perfectly honest, they don’t need Strome. After all, they can compete for Nolan Patrick without Strome just as well as they can with him. It’s a move that makes sense for Arizona.
For Strome? That’s a little more nebulous.
Let’s take a moment to put things into perspective: Yes, some of the most dynamic young forwards in the NHL are under the age of 20. Yes, that includes the likes of Strome’s former teammate Connor McDavid, draftmate Mitch Marner, and 2016 Draft phenoms Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine.
Yes, the Coyotes have opted to keep fellow teenagers (and still juniors-eligible) Lawson Crouse and Jakob Chychrun past their nine-game tryouts.
No, Strome getting assigned to Erie as a 19 year-old doesn’t make him a bust, and no, it isn’t a slight against him or his abilities.
It’s disappointing, to be sure, and it’s probably safe to say that nobody is more disappointed than Strome himself, but seriously, guys: He’s 19. He’s got plenty of time. He’ll have every chance to be an impactful player in the NHL for years to come.
That being said, I’m not actually all that sure that this was the best move. An acceptable one? Sure. But best? Well. That’s debatable.
Strome played seven games in his time with the Coyotes. Those seven games were relatively underwhelming, and he punctuated his final game with an OT hook on the Canucks’ Ben Hutton, who went on to score the game-winning goal on the subsequent penalty shot. Yeah, ouch.
In all strength states, Strome only posted a CF% of 50% or above only twice. As you can see in the table below, one of those times came in his October 18 debut against Ottawa. The other came a few days later in his third game. (The following numbers are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, by the way.)
In fairness to Strome, though, it isn’t like he was lagging behind his team’s level of play. Arizona currently sits 29th in league standings with a dismal 14 points through 17 games. In terms of shot metrics, they sit dead last with a CF% of 44.66%. (For reference, St. Louis is best in the league at 54.13%, Colorado is right in the middle of the pack at 50.18%, and league average is 49.98%.)
If Strome is having trouble dominating possession, it’s not just him — it’s a team-wide issue. The Coyotes who looked like they took something of a step forward last season, have been pretty brutal so far. In fact, they’re looking like one of the frontrunners in the Nolan Patrick lottery.
But I digress. The point is this: Dylan Strome got a very, very limited look with the Coyotes. He wasn’t great, but he wasn’t exactly getting shelled, either. And in five of the seven games he played, he actually posted better possession numbers than team average.
In no instance was Strome out of his depth relative to his team’s play. Sure, maybe you’d like to see him shoot more (he registered 6 shots on goal in his stint with the Coyotes) and old-school folks won’t be impressed with his -5 rating, but that’s small potatoes.
Strome hasn’t stood out in the way that some of the other kids in this year’s rookie class have, but we forget: There’s a reason we make such a big deal of the Auston Matthews and Zach Werenskis and Mitch Marners of the world. What they’re doing isn’t commonplace.
A team that’s dwelling in the league basement has the dubious luxury of being able to give their young players plenty of room to figure out how to play in the NHL. When playoffs aren’t on the line, you can feel a little better about letting your rookies make mistakes and learn from them.
The Coyotes chose not to take that route, instead opting to assign Strome to his junior team.
There are just a few issues with that: First, it’s genuinely puzzling that the Coyotes were so reluctant to put Strome in the lineup and keep him there. He really didn’t have much of a chance to get into a rhythm, and we never quite got to see what he could do. Second, and more importantly, does sending Strome back to juniors actually advance his development in any way?
If we take a peek at his impressive production rate in his past two seasons with Erie (1.90 PPG in 2014-15 and 1.98 PPG in 2015-16), it’s easy to see that Strome should be playing at a higher level than the OHL this year.
By the Coyotes’ logic, it’s better for Strome to be getting ample ice time with Erie than to be in the NHL, where he wouldn’t be in the lineup regularly, since they’ve apparently deemed him unready.
In a perfect world, players like Dylan Strome who have outgrown major juniors but aren’t quite ready for the NHL would be able to go to the AHL to further their development. Alas, we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in this one, where the CHL wants star power to boost their bottom line and has an agreement with the NHL that prohibits CHL players from playing in the AHL before they’re 20.
Dylan Strome is 19. Ergo, Dylan Strome cannot play in the AHL even though that would be the best thing for him in terms of development right now.
It’s a frustrating situation for Strome to be in. He’s a professional, and by all accounts the sort of guy who’s going to go to Erie and work as hard as ever. He doesn’t have a Memorial Cup, and he and the Otters will have their sights set on that goal. However, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that because of a business agreement between the CHL and NHL, Strome cannot do the thing that makes the most sense for his individual development.
At some point, that agreement should maybe be revisited and changed.
It’s not likely, but it’s possible. Even if it does happen, though, it’ll be too late for Dylan Strome, and that’s unfortunate.
But hey, it’s not the end of the world here. I’d like to reiterate: There is literally no shame in being deemed unready to play in the NHL as a teenager. The vast majority of players are not. The ones who are ready, the ones who excel — those are the exception, not the rule.
Dylan Strome is not a bust, and the Coyotes are not “giving up” on him, not by a long shot.
(And hey: Keep an eye out for the Erie Otters in their inexorable march towards the top of the CHL. They were already one heck of a team, and they’ve just added Dylan Strome.)