THE LINE KINGS
Nylander-Strome-Kane trio has been dominant in scrimmages, which bodes well for upcoming series against Oilers
The Blackhawks’ official “second” line of Dylan Strome centering Patrick Kane and Alex Nylander has been hotter than the weather outside since training camp started last week.
In the three intrasquad scrimmages, that line has seven of the team’s 12 goals. Strome scored twice in Team Black’s 3-0 win last Wednesday, then again in the 1-1 tie Saturday, and Kane and Nylander each scored twice in Team Black’s 5-2 win Sunday.
Even in other drills, all three have been noticeably quick and accurate.
“That line’s looked really good so far,” coach Jeremy Colliton said Sunday. “They’ve been active, skating well, showing a lot of chemistry, and they’ve been scoring, so hopefully that continues.”
“We all bring a different element to the game,” Strome said Monday. “[Nylander has] great speed and a great shot, and he can make plays. And then, obviously, Kane does his thing with the puck and makes plays all over the ice, so it blends well together. I just try to get open.”
It makes sense that Colliton immediately turned to Nylander-Strome-Kane when sketching out lines at the start of camp, and even more sense that he has stuck with them.
That line spent five games together in the middle of the regular season, then reunited for the last seven games before the March 12 season stoppage. Overall, in 110 minutes together, the line outscored opponents 10-5 and generated a 53.0% scoring-chance ratio. When not alongside the other two, Nylander, Strome and Kane had scoring-chance ratios below 48.3%.
Their success was driven not only because of Kane’s presence but also because of their well-matched skills.
Kane, while deadly offensively, is most effective when he has teammates who can get him the puck and maximize the Hawks’ possession rate. Strome and Nylander do exactly that. They ranked second and fourth, respectively, on the team in assists per minute, and Strome ranked third on the team in high-danger passes per minute (according to analyst Corey Sznajder).
Plus, Colliton has worked with Nylander to help him improve his retrieval skills.
“[We’ve emphasized] his work ethic away from the puck and getting to full speed away from the puck, to put pressure on [opponents] and cause turnovers and to give defensive support,” Colliton said. “Especially when you’re playing with Kane, we need to have the puck.”
Interestingly, Strome admitted Monday that he wasn’t even at full strength during the line’s initial torrid streak in late February and early March.
The ankle injury that caused him to miss most of the Hawks’ January schedule still hurt when the season stopped, Strome said. But the extra three months off that the pandemic provided, during which he consciously prioritized ankle-friendly exercises — such as riding the bike instead of running — helped fully heal it.
“I feel great,” he said. “Our line’s been clicking really well, and I feel confident with the puck, and I feel like my skating’s gotten better.”
So now Strome is healthy, Nylander has completed a full year of learning under the Hawks’ coaching staff and Kane is, well, still Kane.
That should make for a truly dangerous trio as the Hawks think ahead to the series against the Oilers.
Kane, with his three Stanley Cup rings, will have to prepare Strome and Nylander for the postseason experience. Both youngsters will be making their NHL playoff debuts. He talked about that, with regard to Nylander, on Friday.
“As camp goes on . . . we’ll talk more about certain details that we want to do when we’re on the ice together,” Kane said. “But [I’m] leaving him alone right now because he looks great. He’s skating well, his puck control is really good and he’s creating a lot in any battle drill or scrimmage so far. I think he and Strome have looked really good so far in camp.”
Patrick Kane (left) will have to prepare Dylan Strome (above, left) and Alex Nylander (above, right) for the demands of playoff hockey.