Summer acquisition playing centre … for now
It was a foregone conclusion that Jordan Eberle would wind upon the New York Islanders’ top line alongside John Tavares, the team’s star and captain.
Then there’s the man for whom the Edmonton Oilers traded Eberle: Ryan Strome? Is he a rightwinger or a centre?
On the Oilers’ first-line alongside Connor McDavid or the centring the third?
Strome is on the second power-play unit, but at even-strength or with the man advantage, he’s still feeling his way.
He’s a good player — a former fifth-overall draft pick of the Islanders — but so far, colour his production beige.
It’s an awfully small sample size, obviously.
And very few Oilers forwards through the three regular-season games have stood out. Only Connor McDavid (3), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2) and Leon Draisaitl (1) have scored, so you can describe most of them as “meh.”
What we know about Strome, who came to the Oilers in late June for Eberle, is he’s younger and cheaper, but the Oilers gave up Eberle’s better career stats.
They’re saving US$3.5million on the salary cap this year, and Strome is age 24 while Eberle is 27.
But Eberle, even with his imperfections in the playoffs last spring when he didn’t score in 13 games, has still played twice as many NHL games, 511 vs. 261, and has 384 points to Strome’s 126.
Strome started on McDavid’s right wing at camp and scored a couple of goals but has played as the No. 3 centre behind McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the regular-season. Leon Draisaitl moved back to McDavid’s line because no one else seized it, and teenager Kailer Yamamoto, who has played two regular-season games, was on the top line Thursday because Draisaitl isn’t skating because of vision problems.
Oiler coach Todd McLellan, who always likes a portable lineup, wants Strome in the middle.
“Strome has been most productive at the centre ice position,” he said. “He’s getting better on a daily basis. He’s got some creativity at centre, and he’s had the puck more in those situations. We have to be prepared to still tinker with our lineup, though. We’re trying to integrate guys as to how we want to play, with our injuries (Drake Caggiula now, Anton Slepyshev through camp) and breaking in new people.”
Strome was a centre in junior but a right-winger about 70 per cent of the time on Long Island.
“You have more responsibility, for sure, at centre but the biggest thing is face-offs. I haven’t taken those in a couple of years, but it’s been fun,” said Strome, who’s actually 50 per cent (14-14) on draws at even-strength, better than anyone else who’s taken more than 10 face-offs.
“When I got drafted, I thought I’d be an NHL centre, but got to the pros and it was a different story. The year I made the team (Islanders) we had a deep team and it was tough to crack their centres (group). They had (Casey) Czikas, (Brock) Nelson, Frans Nielsen and John Tavares down the middle. Pretty solid four centres,” he said.
Right now, he doesn’t much care where he plays as long as he plays. He’s averaging 13-1/2 minutes, 11:38 of it at even-strength (seventh most among forwards). He has five shots in the three games.
Strome, as he said, has no problem moving around the lineup.
“You get to play with different players and certainly get to learn the coaches’ system from every position on the ice, which is good,” said Strome. “I need to show that versatility, that I can play all over the lineup. With such a talented team with so many inter-changeable parts, it’s a valuable asset.”
You don’t judge trades after a week or even a year, but there’s always going to be white noise from fans, trying to compare players. Strome doesn’t feel any heat to be lighting it up, though.
“There’s not too much pressure,” he said. “The thing I’ve noticed about this team is the personal accolades who does the job is never that important. In the dressing room, it’s who blocks a shot or makes a great save, honestly, is more noticed with these guys.”
There’s no time frame for when new players start to make an impact. Or whether it makes a difference if they’re coming from the Eastern Conference.
”Every situation has it’s own set of circumstances. Remember when (Andrej) Sekera came here (freeagent)? It took him a little while in the first year to adapt and while he’d played a lot in the East (Carolina), he was playing in L.A. for a bit, even if he got hurt there,” said the Oilers coach.
“Ryan understands the drills and the language we’re using. He’s getting more comfortable.”
“He’s got some creativity at centre ...” Oilers head coach Todd McLellan