There haven’t been a whole lot of bright spots for the Arizona Coyotes this season. Clayton Keller’s quest for the Calder Trophy is fun to watch and Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s bounce-back season after some personal tragedy has been great to witness.
Now it’s Dylan Strome’s chance to add to the “positives” side of the ledger for the Coyotes after he was recalled from the AHL on Sunday.
You’ll remember that the No. 3 overall pick from the 2015 NHL Draft started the season in Arizona, but couldn’t find a regular spot in Rick Tocchet’s lineup. After being sent back to junior following seven games during the 2016-17 campaign, there was hope Strome could be an impact player in the Coyotes’ lineup this season. It didn’t happen at the start. He recorded zero points and only three shots in 24:18 of ice time over two games.
“I think I’ve proven that I can play there. It’s just about being consistent, I guess, finding a way to be steady on an every-day basis,” he said last month after being sent down via the Arizona Republic. “You’re going to have some good games, but you can’t have those bad games or you’ll be down here [in AHL] or you’ll be in the press box.”
Carrying the pressure of being a top-five draft pick, especially after a junior career in Erie that saw him post back-to-back 100-point seasons, the demotion could have impacted Strome in a negative way. Instead, he went to AHL Tucson and worked his way back to the NHL. With the Roadrunners he recorded points in 12 of 15 games and finished with eight goals and 26 points.
Tocchet said he wanted to see Strome improve his decision-making during his time in the AHL, where he’d also play in different situations on special teams. Strome, Tucson’s top line center, leaves the Roadrunners as their leading scorer and will likely return to the Coyotes lineup Tuesday in Edmonton and face off against his older brother Ryan.
“‘Toc’ likes to play quick, so I really worked on that,” Strome told Dave Vest of the Coyotes website. “I’m just going to play my game, just keep doing what I was doing down in Tucson. Obviously everything is a little bit quicker up there, so I’ve got to adjust to the speed, but I think it’s pretty close so I’m just going to go and have fun.”
The top 10 picks in the 2015 draft is a tough group to be a part of and have a slow start to your career. When you see names like McDavid, Eichel, Marner, Hanifin, Provorov and Werenski hitting triple digits in NHL games played and having major impacts on their teams some may want to throw the “bust” label in Strome’s direction. But after only nine NHL games and still just 20-year-old, he’s already taken his step back — now the only direction he can move is forward.