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Relax! Dylan Strome is fine

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Strome is going to get some extra seasoning in the AHL but will be back in the NHL sooner rather than later.

NHL: Preseason-Arizona Coyotes at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Dylan Strome was sent to the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL today. It’s understandable that some Arizona Coyotes fans are concerned about one of the highest draft picks the team has ever had, but he will be fine.

Draft Comparisons

Since moving to the desert in 1996, the Coyotes have only ever had a Top 5 pick in the draft three times. So far they’ve had zero luck with those picks. After playing only 137 games with the Coyotes, Kyle Turris, the 3rd overall from 2007, decided he wanted out. Blake Wheeler, the 5th overall from 2004 never even touched the ice in a Coyotes sweater before requesting a trade. Both have gone on to have relatively quiet but also successful careers with their respective teams.

It’s natural for Coyotes fans to look at the third Top 5 pick, Dylan Strome, with a great deal of hope and anticipation. Waiting for the other shoe to drop, when he hasn’t even played 10 NHL games, is premature.

Strome is sometimes criticized because of where he was chosen in the 2015 NHL Entry Level Draft. He was the third overall pick in 2015 that came behind Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. Comparing him to those exceptional talents would be wholly unfair but he is often compared to the two draft picks that came after him: Mitch Marner and Noah Hanifin. While it is true that both Marner and Hanifin made the NHL before Strome did that doesn’t mean he is behind on development.

Namita Nandakumar recently wrote an article for the Athletic (Spoiler alert: there’s a paywall) explaining her research about prospect timelines. She compiled the data of the drafts from 2007 to 2012 and found that the average number of seasons it takes for a prospect to play 40 or more NHL games is four. This number holds true for 1st round forward draft picks where 30-45 percent make it in their third year and 45-62 percent make it in their fourth year. Strome is only just now in his third post-draft season so if he plays with the NHL team for 40 or more games this season or next he is still on target.

Another reason that the comparison doesn’t hold is because Strome is a center, whereas Hanifin and Marner are a defender and winger, respectively. In the Hanifin comparison the Hurricanes had the ability to shelter him in his first year of play. He struggled early in his sophomore season and was the subject of trade rumors this offseason.

As for the Marner comparison, centers typically take on more responsibilities than wingers and need to be physically able to handle those responsibilities. For example: in the 2016-2017 season Marner played in 77 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs and took 37 faceoffs winning about 38 percent or 29 faceoffs. Strome played in 7 games for the Coyotes and took 77 faceoffs winning about 40 percent. If we adjust Strome’s games to match Marner’s and keep the faceoff win percentage the same, Strome would have had 847 faceoffs winning about 340 of them. To further this point, Christian Dvorak, who has an extra year of development on both Strome and Marner took 1,006 faceoffs in 78 games won 46.8 percent of them and broke the franchise’s rookie record of faceoff wins with 471. How long he holds that record is going to depend almost entirely on Strome.

He’s invisible

Throughout the preseason his first NHL games of the 2017-18 season the one description that kept being applied to Strome was invisible. Being invisible isn’t necessarily bad because if he screwed up terribly there’s no doubt it would be noticed.

However, the problem with this assessment is that the human brain isn’t built to be able to process all of the things happening in a hockey game. There are between eight to 10 players skating up and down the ice every shift, and two goalies to capture one’s attention. It is next to impossible to see everything that is happening. Want further proof? Check out this mind bending video:

Another aspect of Strome’s game that should be pointed out is that he is not a flashy goal scorer. In his junior career with the Erie Otters, Strome earned 354 points in 219 games but more than two-thirds of his points were assists (240). Whether or not his linemates can finish with a goal will have a large impact on his game. The things he does do well on the ice aren’t necessarily as noticeable but that’s precisely why fancy stats were invented.

Naturally, because Strome is cursed, no data is available for the game where he scored a goal and likely had the best night of his preseason. However, some of the games where he was invisible do have data. So let’s see where his shot rates compare to other unquestioned roster players. All of the shot rates are from charts at Hockeyviz.com and are at even strength. Shot rates are comparing all the shots a player’s team took (shots for) versus all the shots opposing players took (shots against) while the subject was on the ice.

In Anaheim on September 20th Strome had about 8 shots for and 8 shots against, Max Domi had the same numbers that night. On September 23rd versus San Jose, he had about 3 shots for and 11 shots against while Brendan Perlini had about 6 shots for and 13 against. In San Jose on September 30th Strome had 6 for and 10 against, his closest shot rate companions are Joe Thornton and Joel Ward who each had 10 shots for and 10 shots against. Playing against Anaheim in the first regular season game, he was on the good side of the line again with Perlini having about 7 shots for and 10 shots against. In the home opener versus Vegas Strome was closest to Lawson Crouse, Perlini and Jordan Martinook with 7 shots for and 15 against. Not a single one of the players where Strome had comparable shot rates is called invisible.

The best representation of seeing isn’t always believing was the game against the Los Angeles Kings. A game where the invisible Dylan Strome was literally the best player on the ice in terms of 5v5 shot rates. Maybe it can’t be seen but, at least in this game, Strome was doing something right.

In one of the preseason games where Dylan Strome was “invisible” he also had the best 5v5 shot rate on the ice.
Chart by Micah Blake McCurdy of Hockeyviz.com

What should be expected?

For this season: Coyotes fans should expect to see improvement, that’s the most important thing. Strome needs to work on speeding up how quickly he thinks the game and makes decisions while under pressure. The AHL will provide a better opportunity for him to work on that and get more coaching in a new system.

For his career: Last December Craig Morgan wrote an article placing top line centers in three groups. If Strome can someday make Group B, like Mark Scheifele and Ryan Getzlaf, that would be a win. In fact, those are two players who didn’t make the NHL until their 20-year-old season and have done just fine since.