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Dylan Strome is Proving the Best is Still to Come

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Strome is using the Memorial Cup to remind the hockey world that he is one of the best prospects in the world.

Dan Hickling/OHL Images

Two seasons ago, he won the OHL scoring race while playing second fiddle to Connor McDavid on the Erie Otters. Last season, he finished third in points per game - behind London linemates Christian Dvorak and Mitch Marner - while leading Team Canada in scoring at the World Junior Championship. Now, Dylan is using his last few games as a junior hockey player to remind the hockey world just how good he is as he puts on a show at the 99th Memorial Cup.

When the season started, there were many - including the player himself - that believed Dylan Strome might be ready for the NHL, both thanks to his outstanding performance in Erie and due to the success of his draft peers. He wasn’t yet ready for the NHL, and in retrospect, he seems to know that now:

"You are going against very special players at that level, when you make a mistake, it turns into a goal. You have to play faster and you have to be better in your defensive end."

Right away, there were Coyotes fans that turned to the negative, downgrading Strome’s potential as a prospect. Some have gone as far as to call him a bust, which is odd, given that only two years earlier, fan favorite Max Domi was sent back to the OHL for his draft+2 season.

It’s been fashionable over the last few years for hockey fans to write off prospects if they take a little longer to make an impact in the NHL. The recent influx of high-end youth in the league has done a lot to warp the perception of prospects and the normal development curve. The talent coming out of junior hockey and the OHL in particular over the past few years has been at an all-time high. The format of draft+2 players making an impact in the NHL is new, and one that isn’t going to be sustained given the next wave of junior talent.

Mitch Marner’s fantastic rookie season hurts Strome’s case. He might not have been the proper pick at #3, though some would still argue he is, that doesn’t make him a bad player or a diminished prospect. The two are very different players, with very different skill sets and therefore, a very different development curve should have been expected - and probably was by Coyotes management.

When Strome was sent back to Erie, what did he do? He went on to have the best season of his life and produce offensively at a higher rate than anyone else in the CHL. His 2.14 points per game are the highest in junior hockey since Connor McDavid in 2014-15. Leading the league in point production is a good sign, doing it 5v5 is an even better one.

Dylan Strome OHL Statistics

TEAM GP G A TP P/GP
TEAM GP G A TP P/GP
Erie Otters 60 10 29 39 0.65
Erie Otters 68 45 84 129 1.9
Erie Otters 56 37 74 111 1.98
Erie Otters 35 22 53 75 2.14

It’s been argued by some that Dylan Strome’s development has been stalled, though that is fictitious and mostly based on anecdotal negativity. The fact is that Strome’s offensive production has gone up every season and he is currently playing the best hockey of his life. He's been the best player on the biggest stage this week at the Memorial Cup.

Strome’s development goes well beyond the numbers as well. Skating has always been the biggest issue for the big center, something that one Ontario-based scout told Sportsnet isn’t the case anymore:

"[Dylan] wasn’t a great skater in his draft year, but you had a sense that it was just a matter of strength—if he put the work in, then it was going to improve, which is exactly what happened in the season after his draft year, a big step up.”

Now, Strome is nowhere near a finished product, but he’s a lot closer than the nay-sayers would have you believe. His skating has improved, but the Coyotes would definitely like to see a little more progress this summer. Beyond that, putting some muscle onto his lean frame is the other physical training he will need to do this offseason.

The other work Dylan Strome needs to do is between the ears. During last year’s training camp, there were rumblings of immaturity standing in his way. Being able to change his mental state from a junior player to a professional is going to be the biggest necessity and challenge for Strome this summer.

He has been usurped at the top of Arizona’s depth chart by Clayton Keller, but that says more about Keller’s elite skill than anything else. Strome was the best player in the CHL this season and still one of the best prospects in the game. He will be a regular in a very young, very exciting Coyote’s lineup next season and more likely than not, he’ll be centering the team’s top line before too long.

With only a couple games left in his junior career, Dylan Strome is still setting records. His 7 points against Saint John are the most ever by a player in a single Memorial Cup game. He finally got his elusive OHL Championship this spring and now he’s looking to put an exclamation mark on a wonderful junior career with a Memorial Cup victory.

"People said that I didn't have anything left to accomplish in junior hockey, but I wanted to win an OHL title and I wanted to win the Memorial Cup, we won the OHL championship and now we've got a shot at the Memorial Cup."

You can tell he wants it. Strome has been Erie’s best player for two of the three games so far. A win on junior hockey’s biggest stage would be a great final chapter and worthy of celebration, though I think, and Yotes fans should hope, that Strome knows that the celebration should be short lived. He’s a lock to be in Arizona’s top-9 on opening day next fall and I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that it won’t take him long to make the organization and fans forget all about the angst caused when he was sent down this season.


Thanks to Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie on twitter) for this piece on Dylan Strome.