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Blackhawks’ Dylan Strome rejuvenated by ‘new chapter’ under Derek King

King has freed Strome and Adam Gaudette from Jeremy Colliton’s dismantled doghouse. Now both forwards need to prove themselves to their new coach.

Dylan Strome sees new opportunity under Blackhawks interim coach Derek King.
Dylan Strome sees new opportunity under Blackhawks interim coach Derek King.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

October didn’t go well for the Strome family.

On Oct. 15, Rangers forward Ryan Strome — the oldest of the three brothers — came down with COVID-19. On Oct. 22, Flyers prospect forward Matthew Strome — the youngest — was sent down to Reading in the ECHL.

And on Oct. 27, middle brother Dylan Strome was preparing for his third consecutive game for the Blackhawks (after four straight healthy scratches to start the season) when he was abruptly scratched again by then-coach Jeremy Colliton. He didn’t find out until a 3:30 p.m. text on game day that Jonathan Toews, who’d tested out of COVID protocol, would be taking his place.

“You get frustrated when you felt like you were playing good [but] you’re not in the lineup,” Strome said Tuesday. “You miss a week, and then you try to get back into it when it’s your time. It’s never easy. It’s not fun for sure, especially when the team’s losing. The mood in the room isn’t great, and you’re obviously upset you’re not playing.”

Fortunately, November is already going much better.

“It was a tough couple weeks there for the family, but we got through it,” he added. “Now Ryan’s back playing — he scored [Monday]. Matt just got called up to the AHL team [with Lehigh Valley]. And here I am here. So things are looking up. You’ve got to smile and be happy.”

The Hawks’ coaching change from Colliton — who’d long ago completely soured on him — to Derek King has given Strome a new opportunity.

After sitting and snacking on press-box candy in seven of 12 games under Colliton this season, Strome has not only played but played his much-preferred center position in both games so far under King. He received 13:45 of ice time versus the Predators and 11:16 versus the Penguins.

“It feels good — [like] a breath of fresh air,” Strome said. “He likes me as a player. He likes the way I try to control the puck... He seems like a nice guy. He played for a long time, so he’s got the hockey mind. It’s good to have him here.”

Adam Gaudette has been similarly released by King from Colliton’s now-dismantled doghouse. He, too, reappeared Tuesday against the Penguins.

“I’m still waiting for a bigger role,” Gaudette said Wednesday. “I know I can do it, but it’s just a matter of earning trust with the coaches... I want to be out there, I want to be relied on, and it’s been a while since I’ve had that feeling.”

Adam Gaudette has also received a new opportunity under Derek King.
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

The injuries to MacKenzie Entwistle and now Brandon Hagel, who the Hawks said Wednesday will miss two weeks with a shoulder injury, likely guarantee Strome and Gaudette will stay in the lineup through the Hawks’ upcoming western road trip.

During that time, however, they’ll both need to fully develop their new relationships with King and prove they’re capable of fixing the flaws in their games that made Colliton lose patience.

Strome, in particular, is entering a make-or-break stretch.

His defensive play has never been great. He ranked last among Hawks forwards last season by allowing 1.03 opponent shot attempts per minute at even strength, and that average has increased to 1.14 this season. Lately, his offensive production hasn’t been much better. He has just one point — an assist — in seven appearances, and he didn’t record any shots on goal Sunday or Tuesday.

His misuse and distrust under Colliton almost certainly affected his mental readiness, which provides a valid excuse for his struggles then. But that excuse no longer applies.

“He’s got to get used to working without a puck,” King said. “When he does have the puck, he can make some stuff happen. But when you don’t have it is when we need everybody to start working harder.”

“Here’s his new chapter. We’ll see what he does with it.”