Blackhawks’ Dylan Strome maligns low production as long-term role comes into question

Strome has scored only 13 points in 35 games this season — including only six at even strength — and was healthy-scratched for crucial games twice last week.

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Dylan Strome has dealt with inexplicably low scoring this season.

Dylan Strome has dealt with inexplicably low scoring this season.

Mark Humphrey/AP

While the Blackhawks played two crucial games last week, Dylan Strome sat in dress clothes in a United Center suite, a healthy scratch in favor of a seventh defenseman.

That scenario would’ve been hard to believe over the last two seasons, during which Strome cemented himself as an integral top-six forward. But that’s how 2021 has been for Strome.

“It’s never fun sitting out,” Strome said Wednesday after returning to the lineup Tuesday. “It sucks to have to watch. But [I’ve] got to play better, got to produce more. They wanted to go with seven ‘D.’ I played 10 and 11 minutes the two games before that, so they thought they could find my minutes somewhere else.”

Strome, a self-described “big stats guy,” knows the numbers.

After scoring 89 points in 116 games the last two seasons with the Hawks, he has scored only 13 in 35 games this year. He knows merely six of those points have come at even strength: four goals, one primary assist and one secondary assist.

But he also knows much of that precipitous drop-off in production isn’t his own fault. His points should theoretically be holding steady or even increasing, based on his shot rates.

His shot attempts have increased from 9.5 per 60 minutes to 10.0 this season. So have his shots on goal (6.0 to 6.3) and scoring chances (5.9 to 6.1). And since returning from a concussion March 18, he has averaged 11.4 shot attempts, 7.3 shots on goal and 8.5 scoring chances per 60.

“It’s weird,” he said. “I have one secondary assist this year, where sometimes you make a pass and a guy makes a pass and it goes in. The last couple years, those were going my way. This year . . . [there’s] not much puck luck.”

He doesn’t intend to exempt himself, though.

“There’s been five or six times this year where I’ve missed grade-‘A’ chances or back-door [chances],” he added. “You turn eight goals into 13 or 14. Stats are one thing, but you’ve got to keep getting the chances . . . and find a way to bear down.”

The Hawks’ seven remaining games don’t mean much from a wins-and-losses standpoint but remain crucial for individual players hoping to prove something to the front office entering what could be a big offseason of trades.

After defenseman Nikita Zadorov, Strome headlines that list. Coach Jeremy Colliton scratching the 24-year-old forward for those two games was a wake-up call, demonstrating how far he has fallen down the depth chart. With as many as 22 forwards currently in contention for roster spots next year, that’s a concerning sign.

Strome’s inability to adapt from a center to wing is a problem, too. He did center a line Tuesday with Dominik Kubalik and Pius Suter, but it was one of relatively few such opportunities he has received.

“We’ve got some good centers on this team, [but] I feel like I can be one of those centers and hopefully I can prove it,” Strome said.

“He would prefer to play center,” Colliton said Tuesday. “We’ve talked about that before. I try to put guys individually in the best situation we can for them to have success. But ultimately I have 23 [players] I need to do that for . . . Part of the game is you don’t always get the role you want to have and it’s up to you to make the most of it.”

Minutes earlier, talking about fellow center-wing flip-flopper Phillipp Kurashev, Colliton said the Hawks “like that flexibility, that he can do it in both positions, as we build our team.” So there’s no question Strome’s positional rigidity reduces his value.

Virtually everything else this season has reduced Strome’s value, too. Only he can turn it around.

“[This year] hasn’t been what I wanted, but sometimes that’s how it happens,” he said. “This year hasn’t been fun for a lot of people.”

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