In a normal draft year, Dylan Strome would have been selected first overall. But 2015 was far from a normal draft year. A generational talent named Connor McDavid was the lottery prize everyone was gushing over, while Jack Eichel, another franchise-changing talent, was right behind him.
Then there was Dylan Strome, McDavid’s hyped-but-largely-overlooked teammate. While the two formed a dynamic punch on the Erie Otters’ power play, Strome carried his own line, putting together a ridiculous season in which he scored 45 goals and 129 points. Those are first overall pick numbers. But because of how absurdly good this draft class was, Strome ended up falling to the Arizona Coyotes with the third overall pick.
McDavid is in his third NHL season and he’s already won an Art Ross and Hart Trophy. Eichel has established himself as one of the league’s top offensive talents.
The rest of the draft isn’t too shabby either. Mitch Marner, who was taken fourth overall, is two points shy of 100 for his career. Noah Hanifin, taken fifth, made his first All-Star appearance a few weeks ago. Ivan Provorov, taken seventh, looks like a top defenceman. Brock Boeser, taken all the way down at 23rd, was named All-Star Game MVP. He’s challenging Mat Barzal, who was taken 16th, for this year’s Calder Trophy.
Strome? He’s scoring at above a point-per-game pace. In the AHL. Two-and-a-half years after being drafted, Strome only has two NHL points.
Earlier this week, Craig Button released his Top 50 NHL-affiliated (AKA drafted) prospects list. Strome was ranked No. 12.
So what’s going on with Strome? In his post-draft season, he went back to Junior and scored 111 points in 56 games. He started the next season in the NHL, but played just seven games before going back down to the OHL for a fourth and final season. He scored 75 points in 35 games and 10 points in seven games on Canada’s World Junior team. But in his third-post-draft season, he still hasn’t been able to find himself at the NHL level.
In 11 games this season with the Coyotes, Strome has one goal. But with the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL, he has 17 goals and 41 points in 33 games. That’s impressive stuff from a 20-year-old in a rough league. That 1.24 point-per-game pace is actually one of the most impressive all-time for a 20-year-old in the AHL, comparable to the likes of Daniel Briere, Logan Couture, Marc Savard, and Derick Brassard, who all had, or are having, good NHL careers.
But it isn’t a pure indicator of future success. Strome’s older brother Ryan produced 49 points in 37 games for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers back in 2013-14. Ryan Strome was selected fifth overall by the Islanders in 2011 and appeared to be can’t-miss prospect. But he was never able to pull it together at the NHL level and is now trying to carve out a role with the Edmonton Oilers.
Dylan Strome certainly has the size, skill, and ability to be a very good NHL player. Also, according to his coaches, he has a great ability to understand the game.
“He’s just a kid that knows how to put numbers on the board,” Roadrunner head coach Mike Van Ryn said of Strome. ”When you sit down and do film with him it’s amazing how well he understands the game. His hockey sense is off the charts.”
Van Run also praised Strome’s willingness and desire to improve at the AHL level, which isn’t something you’ll always see from a player with such high draft pedigree riding the bus.
“There was fire in his eyes,” Van Ryn said “He was on a mission and stayed on it. I was expecting a slower start from Dylan but his positional play got better, his quickness on pucks got better. He was winning second-man races, forcing turnovers and started to grasp the [AHL] game. The first step for a young guy is to do it in practice.”
While Strome’s status as a top prospect has worn off due to his slow start and the success of those selected behind him, he certainly shouldn’t be labelled as a bust. Sometimes players who produced like Strome did at the Junior ranks can’t make the jump to the NHL game. But almost never do players who produced like Strome at his age in the AHL fail to make the jump to the NHL level.
Interestingly enough, though, the one player who had an AHL performance as a 20-year-old as good as Strome’s this season in Tucson is his older brother.