Dylan Strome - to the displeasure of more than a few Arizona Coyotes fans - has been in the press box more than he’s been on the ice. Strome has only dressed for three games, and has just one assist on the year.
It’s clear the Arizona Coyotes are taking their time with his development. But it would also seem as though there should be a way to get Strome both meaningful ice time and meaningful practice time simultaneously.
Normally, the solution would be to simply send Strome to the American Hockey League, where he could learn the professional game under the watchful eye of the team’s coaching staff. But due to a Canadian Hockey League rule, Strome can’t be sent to Tucson until after the Erie Otters’ season ends.
So why does this rule exist? And how could it be fixed to help a player like Strome who is too good for the OHL yet not quite ready for the NHL?
The problem Strome has is the exact same one that the Coyotes had with Max Domi two seasons ago. Strome has 279 points in 184 regular season OHL games, and 52 points in 47 OHL playoff games. Strome, like Domi, has almost nothing left to prove in Erie.
And like Domi in 2014-15, Strome is only 19 years old, which makes him ineligible to play in the AHL per the terms of the joint agreement between the CHL and NHL. Ostensibly, it is to benefit the players and prepare them for the grind of professional hockey. But in Strome’s case, it’s doing the exact opposite.
Strome remains with the Coyotes despite being a healthy scratch in five of the team’s eight games because the Coyotes believe Strome needs to be around the team’s coaching staff, including Head Coach Dave Tippett and Player Development Coach Steve Sullivan. And a possible plan for Strome’s season is to wait to send him to play at the World Junior Championship in December, followed by a short stint in Erie, and finally potentially back to Tucson once the Otters’ season ends.
Such a plan would maximize Strome’s time playing against high-quality competition and working with Arizona’s development staff. But it also means spending several months in the Coyotes’ press box, and a needlessly convoluted series of moves, from Team Canada, to Erie for a few months, to possibly the AHL. That’s a lot of travel.
The CHL has stated it doesn’t plan on making any changes to its age restriction. And in most cases, there is no reason to. But clearly, for certain players like Strome, the next stage of development involves a more hands-on approach with the parent club. And there’s an easy change that could be made to make that happen.
The easy solution (and one that’s been discussed before) would be to simply permit NHL clubs to re-assign one player per year to the AHL instead of the CHL. They could not be promoted back to the NHL until after the AHL season ended - which would mirror the CHL’s policy on playing in the AHL - and would not burn a year of their entry-level contract unless they played in nine NHL games that year.
Such a system would theoretically affect at most 31 players, and actually affect a lot fewer, as the overwhelming majority of draft picks are better suited to develop in the CHL. And because teams would only receive one per season, they would have to be careful about which prospect they ultimately chose to designate as AHL eligible.
For a guy like Dylan Strome, AHL eligibility would be perfect to help him improve in his quest to be an NHL mainstay. The CHL and NHL should make a small tweak to their agreement to make that happen.