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Blackhawks’ Dylan Strome responding from message-sending scratch with more aggressive play

As a healthy scratch Tuesday in Edmonton, Strome had a video session with Jeremy Colliton where he was told to be more physical and tenacious in his puck pursuit.

Dylan Strome has struggled since return from a high-ankle sprain.
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CALGARY, Alberta — Dylan Strome has a tall, solid frame at 6-3, 200 pounds, but he doesn’t use it much.

Part of that is because his skills make him a playmaker, not a grinder, and that’s perfectly fine with the Blackhawks. But part of that is because Strome has a tendency to be passive without the puck, and he and the Hawks hope to change that habit.

“[I have to] be relentless, try to be all over the puck,” Strome said Saturday. “I have a tendency to sit back and wait for the turnover, but in this league, you’ve got to go after it.”

Strome was a healthy scratch Tuesday against the Oilers for the first time since his trade to the Hawks, coming out of the lineup four games after returning to it. He had missed close to a month previously with a high ankle sprain.

Coach Jeremy Colliton said at the time the injury wasn’t part of the decision to scratch him, and Colliton — being the one who decides such things — is inherently correct if he says it was meant as a purely message-sending move.

But Strome can’t deny his right ankle is somewhat affecting him.

“A high ankle sprain is something that’s going to linger for a long time, pretty much until you take a couple months off — pretty much the summer,” he said. “I knew that fully coming back. It’s just something that’s always there, but not necessarily hurts, it’s just there.”

Strome mentioned two positives. He hasn’t needed to tape it before going on the ice recently, as he had to the first week back, and Brandon Saad has remained productive despite dealing with the same issue.

He also knew while sitting in the Edmonton press box that the ankle wasn’t why he was there — it was because Colliton was unhappy with his play.

“I was obviously frustrated and a little bit pissed off, but that’s the point of it,” he said.

Instead of preparing for the game that day as he otherwise would have been, he had an individual film-review session with the coaching staff. The main takeaway — be more aggressive.

“I’m not necessarily a guy that hits guys a lot, but nothing wrong with rubbing a guy out,” he said. “Little things like that, where it helps in the long run. Maybe the next time the [defenseman] gets the puck, he’s thinking, ‘This guy might finish a check,’ and might turn it over. That’s what I watched with [the coaches].”

The NHL’s official takeaways stat is dubious, but Strome’s takeaway average has declined from 0.60 per game last year to 0.44. So there might also be some statistical evidence designating this an area in need of improvement.

Then again, Strome was not credited with any takeaways in his return to the lineup Wednesday in Vancouver, but he said he felt he “created a few” with his newfound aggression. Colliton also had positive things to say.

“Even on that day, obviously he’s not happy, but [he had] the right mentality as far as, ‘I’m going to raise my level,’” Colliton said.

In Saturday’s win over the Flames, Strome’s increased aggression forced a turnover behind the net, which he fed to Alex DeBrincat in front to earn his first assist since the injury. But he still hasn’t scored since Jan. 5, and that’s hopefully coming next.

“[It’s about] remembering how to score goals [because] it’s been a while,” he said. “There’s been some chances. So if those go in, then I’m sure I’m playing with a lot of -confidence.”