Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Chicago Blackhawks.
One of the few bright spots for the 2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks had to be the emergence of Dylan Strome following his mid-season acquisition from the Arizona Coyotes.
The No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 draft, Strome was a talented young player that had performed and produced at an incredibly high level at every stop in his development. He was a dominant junior player and a point-per-game player in the American Hockey League, but never really had much of a chance to shine with the Coyotes at the NHL level.
They were patient and methodical in his development, wanting him to grow as a two-way center before throwing him into the deep-end of the NHL pool. He would never get a chance to take that step in Arizona having been traded to Chicago for Nick Schmaltz. At the time, it seemed like a great gamble for the Blackhawks to take. They needed young, cheap players that still had big-time potential to help restock their cupboards, and the cost to get him was not fair.
The early returns have been great.
He recorded 51 points (17 goals, 34 assists) in his first 58 games with the team. Only three players on the Blackhawks (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat) recorded more points after his arrival.
One of the biggest keys for the Blackhawks in 2019-20 will be whether or not Strome’s initial success in Chicago was something that he can build on, or if it was just simply a giant mirage.
The promising part for Strome is that the talent and potential for him to be an impact player has never been an issue. It has always just been a matter of him getting an opportunity and actually putting everything together.
With the Blackhawks he demonstrated top-line playmaking ability (his 1.02 primary assists per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play were second on the team, trailing only Patrick Kane) and scored at a 25-goal pace over 82 games.
That is all outstanding.
But there were still some serious red flags that came with that production.
While he seemed to find a goal-scoring touch, he was not a player that created a lot of shots on his own. That is a problem because the biggest part of consistently scoring goals is consistently creating shots.
He averaged under two shots on goal per game and was one of the team’s worst players at generating shot attempts during 5-on-5 play. A lot his new goal-scoring success was driven by a 16.2 percent shooting percentage. And while that is not an outrageously high number (he was a 12 percent shooter in Arizona) it is still a mystery as to whether or not he can maintain such a level.
The Blackhawks were also badly outshot and outchanced when he was on the ice, a trend that remained consistent no matter who his linemates were.
None of this is to suggest he can not improve in these areas. He does not turn 23 years old until March, only has 106 games of NHL experience on his resume, and has a track record of producing at an All-Star level offensively throughout his development. It is just to point out that he is far from a finished product and a huge X-factor for the Blackhawks.
If he improves his two-way play and generates more shot volume he has a chance to be an important of the next wave of talent to go through Chicago alongside Debrincat and 2019 first-round pick Kirby Dach.
But if he keeps getting stuck in his own end of the ice while opponents pump shots on the Blackhawks’ net and he has to rely on shooting percentage to score goals, some of his scoring luck might soon run out.
The direction his career takes this season will play a big role in the direction the Blackhawks’ season takes.