I’m going to preface this entire article by stating that, yes, I know Dylan Strome is far from a perfect player. I shouldn’t have to, but I know I need to.
Does Strome have average-at-best speed and footwork at the NHL level? Yes.
Is Strome essentially one-dimensional? Yes.
Is he the most effective centerman in the NHL? No.
Ok. Are we clear? Good.
The Chicago Blackhawks made the grandiose decision this offseason to burn-down the roster and get rid of anything of youthful value to the club and hang onto three players that they were forced to with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Seth Jones.
“Rebuild!” Was the rally-cry of the organization but that didn’t include Strome, or Kirby Dach, or Dominik Kubalík, or Alex DeBrincat. The Blackhawks are shooting to get Connor Bedard in the 2023 NHL Draft and totally restart their organization top to bottom.
But Strome was a player that could have been a part of the rebuild wave. Someone who Patrick Kane campaigned for last season and someone who is once again playing in a playmaking role alongside a future Hockey Hall of Famer in Alex Ovechkin.
“He’s been good. I didn’t know him much before this year playing in Chicago. But he creates. He’s a smart player.”
Small praise, but praise nonetheless from the history-chasing Ovechkin for his new linemate. While all of the focus for tonight’s Blackhawks-Capitals matchup will be on Ovechkin’s journey to reach 800 goals, there will likely be a point where one of Ovechkin’s record-chasing goals tonight will come from a pass from Strome.
“When you’re playing with really talented players, it’s a lot of fun.” Strome said ahead of Tuesday’s return to face the Blackhawks. “He’s (Ovechkin) an unbelievable player and an unbelievable guy. He can shoot the puck real hard and he’s really fun to play with.”
Strome’s time in Chicago was a roller-coaster. In totality, Strome was an effective centerman who could play in the middle of the lineup and make plays utilizing his vision, hockey sense, and passing ability. He needed to have players like Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane on his wings to be as effective as he was and continuing to play with triggermen like DeBrincat, Kane, and now Ovechkin make him a better asset.
But he was also invisible on some nights, not effective defensively on a consistent basis, and left more pucks at the face-off dot than he took with him. It’s a give and a take with him and continues to be.
This season with the Capitals, playing on a one-year deal worth $3.5M and becoming a restricted free agent again this summer, Strome is second on the team in Corsi-For% at 61.09 per 60 minutes and leads the team in Expected Goals-For% at 63.43 per 60 minutes, both at all strengths.
Strome is having his best season of his career when it comes to Individual Expected Goals per 60 minutes with a 1.1 rate, pretty far ahead of his 0.78 rate in the 2021 season, his previous career-best rate in a full NHL season. He is also tied for second on the team in points with 22 in 30 games this season with 11 points at even-strength and 11 on the powerplay.
He’s making his case, again, to find a long-term home in the NHL. This time with the Capitals.
The return to Chicago is an opportunity, again, for a Blackhawks player that was tossed aside in the rebuilding process to exact a bit of “revenge,” so to say. First it was Kirby Dach. Now it’s Strome’s opportunity. On March 6, it’ll be DeBrincat’s turn. But Strome isn’t focusing too much on that narrative, at least he’s not saying he is.
“It’s going to be different. I’m looking forward to it though, it’s exciting. I loved playing here. It’s a great city. Lots of memories here and it’s a great place to play.”