Dylan Strome may never be more important to the Chicago Blackhawks than he is right now. For better or worse, he’s the best centerman they have (healthy) on the roster as training camp opens, which is why the Blackhawks finally caved and signed the former third-overall pick to a two-year, $3 million AAV extension on Sunday afternoon.
Chicago #Blackhawks sign RFA Dylan Strome to a 2 year contract worth $6,000,000.
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) January 3, 2021
In the blink of an eye, the Blackhawks lost Alex Nylander and Kirby Dach effectively for the entire 2021 season, and Jonathan Toews for the foreseeable future. That’s when all contract negotiating leverage went out the window for Stan Bowman and the Chicago front office. There was just no way the Blackhawks were entering camp with Carl Soderberg as their best option at center, so Strome became worth more to the Blackhawks on the ice this season than in any sort of trade package.
The deal isn’t bad, but it’s surely not what the Blackhawks could have had in mind for Strome, prior to the landslide of injuries. The two years are fine, it’s a “prove it” timeframe. The $3 million AAV is pretty much what was expected, though some will argue his value is less when the team is fully healthy. That’s a moot point now though, because the team isn’t healthy and he is their number one guy for the time being.
The opportunity now is for Strome to emerge as a leader for the Blackhawks. Being thrust into the top position, Strome will likely center a line with Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane on his wings. That trio has had measured success over the past two seasons and may honestly be the only way for the Blackhawks to “load up” a line with their skill players.
The good news for the Blackhawks is that Strome is used to playing in top roles with top players. In his time with the Erie Otters in the OHL, Strome played with Connor McDavid, Andre Burakovsky, Connor Brown, Anthony Cirelli, and DeBrincat to name a few. He was named the Captain of Team Canada for the 2017 World Junior Championships, where he took home a silver medal, and led a team that had the likes of Thomas Chabot, Mathew Barzal, and Pierre-Luc Dubois on the roster. He was also the third-overall pick in the 2015 Entry Draft, and if all that doesn’t float your boat on Strome, he’s had two seasons playing with the Blackhawks’ top-six forwards group that consists of DeBrincat, Toews, Kane, and Dominik Kubalik, a Calder Trophy finalist last year, producing 89 points in 116 games while averaging 16:30 TOI with Chicago.
Dylan Strome, Chicago's only center who still exists, is a decent play-maker who gives a lot back on defence. pic.twitter.com/cddBXeU8LT
— dom luszczyszyn (@domluszczyszyn) January 3, 2021
Is Strome a number one center league-wide? No.
But on a team without a number one center, even without a true number two center, the 23-year-old has the opportunity to fully mature into the play-making center he looks to be. His ice-time will increase, his responsibilities will increase, but he’s not going to be like Toews or Dach. You won’t see Strome playing on both sides of special teams and taking all the faceoffs.
The bottom line is that the extension was warranted, the opportunity is massive, and the Blackhawks have no choice but to give Strome the chance. The season is going to be a wash, so any result is on the table for Chicago. If Strome takes a step forward in his development, then that is icing on the cake for the 2021 season.
A terrible, dry cake with no sugar in the recipe. Not even monk fruit sweetener.