This isn’t a second chance for Dylan Strome. It’s his first real one.
The Blackhawks plucked Strome from the Coyotes in a trade that gave him a shot at playing alongside elite offensive players and the freedom to ride out rough patches. He might look back on that Nov. 25 deal as the move that saved his career.
It has been nearly four years since he was the No. 3 overall draft pick, and perhaps 21 is too early to write someone off as a bust. Maybe he just needed an opportunity like this.
“It’s a nice restart,” Strome said. “It felt like a new season, new everything once I got here.
“I’m getting more comfortable, and I know I’m gonna be in the lineup. When I make a mistake, I know I’m not gonna be in the crowd the next game. I can figure it out on my next shift or the next couple of shifts after that and make up for it. That makes it easier on your mind and makes your play a little bit better.”
Strome’s development is a collaborative victory for general manager Stan Bowman and coach Jeremy Colliton. He is a Hawks staple as their second-line center and has 23 points in 15 games heading into a showdown Sunday against the Stars.
Strome has as many points this month as he managed during his entire stay in Arizona, where he played 48 games in 3½ years and averaged a little more than 13 minutes per game. He has played in every game since the trade — in which the Hawks offloaded Nick Schmaltz and also acquired Brendan Perlini — and has averaged 17:19.
He’s in an ideal spot personnel-wise, too. Strome started on a line with Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat and now plays with DeBrincat and Dominik Kahun in addition to working on the top power-play unit.
Even better, he’s learning his position under future Hall of Famer Jonathan Toews.
His cohesion with DeBrincat traces back to when they were teammates, along with Connor McDavid, on the Erie Otters in 2014-15. Strome beat both of them for the Ontario Hockey League scoring title that season.
There’s no question he has high-end talent — McDavid and Jack Eichel were the only players drafted before him — and now he has every advantage to grow. In the short time he has been with the Hawks, he already has become a craftier, more polished center.
“It’s nice to see a guy like that who maybe needed a change in situation, then that happens, and it works out for him,” Toews said. “He’s always in the right area, he’s always supporting the puck, but not too closely, and when he gets it in traffic, he knows where he’s going next with it.”
Strome’s recent run came at the perfect time for the Hawks.
Shortly before the All-Star break, Colliton’s desperation led him to pair Kane and Toews on the “nuclear line” at the risk of leaving the other lines bare. Strome’s emergence has helped make it viable, along with DeBrincat being one of the top scorers in the league and third-liner Brandon Saad getting in a groove.
Strome is tied for fifth on the team in points with 37, including 13 goals, but also could be important in the Hawks’ rebuild. They have him under contract cheaply next season and have his rights as a restricted free agent after that.