Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Dylan Strome. One, two, and three in the first round of the 2015 NHL draft. McDavid and Eichel, faces of their franchises. Strome, mid-line journeyman? That’s starting to feel more and more like the reality for the 24-year-old Strome as this season comes to a close for him and the Chicago Blackhawks.
The year began with a bittersweet opportunity for Strome to step into the role of top-line center for the Blackhawks when Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach would both be unavailable. He quickly was taken out of that role and has since bounced around the lineup for most of this season, finding a home on the wing on the second and third lines in recent weeks. With eight goals and 13 points in 35 games this season, Strome is far from the form that he had when he first came to the Blackhawks from the Arizona Coyotes in the 2018-19 season (51 points in 58 games). He’s been a healthy-scratch multiple times in the last two seasons under Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton and has bounced between playing center and playing wing.
Most recently, Strome sat for two games against the Nashville Predators as the Blackhawks were fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive. Chicago lost both games. Strome re-entered the lineup on Tuesday night and played 13:12 minutes in a centerman role.
"It's nice to get back in the lineup last game and get a few chances, so hopefully I can build off that."
Added this season has "for sure" been frustrating: "Hasn’t been what I wanted, but sometimes that’s what happens as a hockey player."
— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) April 28, 2021
While Strome has not been the same player in recent months that we saw during the 2018-19 season and in stretch during last season, Colliton says he has had “no problems” with him. Which, sure … but also, if he wasn’t a problem, he’d be earning more than 12-14 minutes per game this season.
Colliton on scratching Strome last night: "He was a victim of circumstance where we felt we needed 7 defenseman… I've got no problem with Stromer. He's playing hard and trying to do what we're asking him to do."
— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) April 22, 2021
Prior to Tuesday night’s game, Colliton talked about what he needs to see from the 24-year-old to stay in the lineup and be a useful part of the Blackhawks lineup moving forward.
Colliton on Strome reentering the lineup tonight at center:
"I would be surprised if he wasn't really good tonight. We just feel like putting him in his comfort zone might help us get the most out of him."
Full quote: pic.twitter.com/S6Jq9XS5dp
— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) April 27, 2021
The harp on Strome for a long time has been on his average skating abilities and deficiency being engaged in puck battles/using his size to his advantage. At 6’3″ and 200-pounds, Strome is a big guy, but you wouldn’t think it when you saw him play most of the time. He’s also not the best at the face-off dot, posting a 47.4% face-off win percentage this season, with markers of 47.7% in 2019-20 and 44.9% in his time with Chicago in 2018-19 for a career 46.5% win-rate with the Blackhawks.
His production is also heading in the wrong direction as well. Here’s where Strome has been over his last three seasons with the Blackhawks, according to Natural Stat Trick:
5v5 Points Per 60-minutes
• 2018-19: 2.73
• 2019-20: 2.30
• 2020-21: 0.86
5v5 Chances-For% Per 60-minutes
• 2018-19: 46.18
• 2019-20: 48.80
• 2020-21: 46.84
5v5 Individual Points Percentage (IPP)
• 2018-19: 64.81
• 2019-20: 77.78
• 2020-21: 50.00
5v5 Individual Expected Goals Per 60-minutes
• 2018-19: 0.50
• 2019-20: 0.53
• 2020-21: 0.55
5v5 Shooting Percentage
• 2018-19: 16.22
• 2019-20: 11.43
• 2020-21: 9.09
Prior to this season, Chicago extended Strome with a two-year, $3M AAV deal with the hopes that whatever we saw from him in 2018-19 and parts of 2019-20 were the real Dylan Strome. But while this season has been hard on everyone (with COVID altering pretty much everything in the NHL and Strome on baby-watch for a portion of the year), this year has certainly been a struggle for Strome, in particular.
There’s also a lot working against him heading into this offseason and the 2021-22 season:
– Anticipated return of Jonathan Toews.
– Seattle Expansion Draft protections.
– Emergence of various Blackhawks rookies, notably Pius Suter and Philipp Kurashev.
– Kirby Dach seems like a legitimate future top-line center.
– … Should I continue? Ok.
– Potential addition of Lukas Reichel next season.
– Anticipated addition of Henrik Borgström to the lineup next season.
– His very tradable contract in a flat-cap NHL world.
– He only seems to play well with Alex DeBrincat and/or Patrick Kane (which makes him Artem Anisimov (which isn’t good)).
I put Strome into the projection for the 2021-22 Blackhawks roster, but as the season has progressed and he has been given less responsibility down the stretch, I get the sense he will possibly not be part of the Blackhawks for his full extension term.