Last winter, shortly after his trade to the Blackhawks, was Dylan Strome’s first breakout.
This fall, after his first summer in Chicago, could be Strome’s second breakout.
It will be hard for the young forward, who seemed to be trending toward a top-five bust before his trade from the Coyotes in November, to top what he accomplished last season with the Hawks: 51 points in 58 games.
But the Strome who takes the ice at Fifth Third Arena for training camp in September, and who likely will start alongside Alex DeBrincat on the Hawks’ second line in the season opener Oct. 4, will be a much-improved player from a physical standpoint.
“He has all the potential to be able to do exactly what he wants to do,” said Paul Goodman, the Hawks’ strength and conditioning coach. “But physically, [he’s] just going through a maturation process and understanding how his body can actually be pushed further and also be able to translate into better speed, better power, better change of direction, better vision.”
Some people just ooze intellect. Goodman is one of them. The small but well-built man, talking faster than an Erik Gustafsson slap shot, previously transformed DeBrincat from doubted second-round pick to rising superstar with his one-of-a-kind training system.
Strome is his latest project.
“The Blackhawks suggested it,” Strome said. “They think it really helped Alex, and they want to see the same improvement for me next year.”
Standing tall at 6-3, but using a relatively short stick, Strome naturally has played leaning slightly forward. That has limited his vision — because his head was tilted downward toward the ice — and obstructed his movement.
Goodman’s plan: put Strome on an offseason workout plan to strengthen his lower body and core, allowing his center of gravity to shift lower, enabling him to play fully -upright, despite the disparity between his height and stick length.
“He can keep his head up, his chest up, he can keep the play in front of him versus coming down and having to look down at the ice,” Goodman said.
The switch understandably hasn’t been easy for Strome, who had spent his NHL summers in Phoenix or at home in the Toronto area.
Goodman essentially told Strome to disregard everything he’d been taught before. They had to “start brand new, try to teach him from the groundwork on up,” so that conflicting earlier habits wouldn’t linger in Strome’s brain and the two could develop a training “language” that Strome would understand.
Strome said he’s used to it all now, but it has taken 2½ months to get to this point.
It’s not hard to figure out why. First of all, Goodman’s workouts are all barefoot, and they last for several hours early in the morning every day.
Moreover, Strome has needed to work with a nutritionist to avoid gaining weight overall, even as his lower-body muscle mass increases.
“You don’t want to build too much in the summer and then have it drop off substantially right at the beginning of the season,” Strome said this week, shortly after escaping Fifth Third Arena just before a swarm of prospects took over the rink for development camp.
“You try to keep building and keep getting stronger so you can maintain it throughout the whole year. Everything you do is calculated.”
Fortunately, the 21-year-old isn’t alone in his workouts. DeBrincat, Strome’s closest off-ice buddy, and Connor Murphy are regulars. Corey Crawford attended earlier in the summer, too, and Brandon Saad recently joined the group.
Strome is the rookie of the bunch, though — a Goodman system rookie, that is. He hopes to avoid another slow start like he had last season with the Coyotes, with whom he had just three goals and three assists in 20 games.
Goodman is confident that won’t happen again. Now that he has successfully adjusted Strome’s balance and posture, he’s testing the young forward by making him do the same exercises in adverse circumstances — in unstable environments, while tired, with additional movements required, etc.
“It’s like a trickle-down effect. If he gets fatigued, then he’s not going to feel like he has the speed and coordination,” Goodman said. “But if we can ... get him to feel really comfortable while he’s fatigued, then he’s going to be like, ‘This is nothing.’ It’s always going to be harder off-ice than on the ice.”
“And that’s the ultimate goal, so that he is highly proficient every shift.”