Dylan Strome’s NHL career has not been a straight line. That meandering path could be taking another twist.
Strome, the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, taken after Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, failed to live up to that billing with the Coyotes before his November 2018 trade to the Blackhawks for Nick Schmaltz. Strome then seemed to find his groove with the Hawks, putting up 51 points in the last 58 games that season, before compiling 12 goals and 26 assists in the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 campaign.
Strome’s 2020-21 season was not as productive (17 points in 40 games), as his part in the Hawks’ future got cloudier. And now with trade speculation rampant, Strome has found himself on the outside looking in under both Jeremy Colliton and Derek King for much of this season, appearing in just 12 of 21 games for a team desperate for production at both even strength and with an advantage.
Following consecutive scratches, it looks like Strome will get another chance Thursday when the Hawks begin a three-game road trip at the Capitals. The Hawks need an offensive spark, having scored eight times in their last five games.
During Wednesday’s practice, with the power-play combinations shaken up, Strome was on the top unit with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach and Erik Gustafsson. At Tuesday’s practice, Strome skated on a wing with Alex DeBrincat and Dach, indicating another top-six opportunity.
“There’s no point of us putting him back in the lineup and putting him on a fourth-line checking line,” King said. “That’s not him. He’s a skilled guy.”
As skilled as Strome is, the Hawks want him to do more than focus on scoring and racking up points. King said Strome needs to do what the team told demoted forward Philipp Kurashev to do.
“He needs to play without the puck and win those battles and be hard to play against,” King said. “His skill level can keep up with Dach and [DeBrincat]. It’s a perfect match, but as long as he’s working the right way.”
While the power play — and lineup as a whole — will be getting Strome back, it’s unclear when forward Tyler Johnson will return. Put on long-term injured reserve Nov. 17 (retroactive to Oct. 29), Johnson’s absence was recently cited by Kane as a reason for the power play’s struggles.
Kane might have been on to something: the Hawks have just two power-play goals in 13 games since Johnson went out of the lineup. And it doesn’t seem like he will return anytime soon.
“He’s not getting any closer, but hopefully we’ll get some good news when we come back from the trip,” King said.
The Hawks hope Strome will help give the offense a boost, even if he’s been put through the ringer this season.
“For sure it is [hard],” King said. “This is NHL hockey. This is pro hockey. You’ve got to be mentally ready and prepared for it. He will be; it’s just whether he’s going to win the battles and when he doesn’t have the puck play the right way.”
NOTE: Defenseman Calvin de Haan (lower back soreness) missed practice for a second consecutive day, but coach Derek King said he will be going on the trip. It’s uncertain if he’ll play Thursday at Washington, and King said de Haan is day-to-day.
“Hopefully he’s ready for one of these,” King said. “If not Washington, [the] Rangers [on Saturday].
De Haan, 30, has appeared in 20 of the Hawks’ 21 games. His 11:52 of ice time and 14 shifts Sunday against the Sharks were both season lows.