When Dylan Strome scored his first goal of the season for the Arizona Coyotes, it felt like a good omen the team. Not only was it great for the young center to get on the board in his third game of the year, but it was also the first marker anyone on the team had scored this season.
“I wanted to get that first one out of the way,” Strome said. “It felt good since we hadn’t scored in the first two games.”
Indeed, the Coyotes had been blanked twice in a row, but to be fair, they were doing a lot of good things. Arizona had out-shot Dallas in the season opener, but ran into a hot Ben Bishop in net. Then Arizona threw 41 shots at Ducks goalie John Gibson (double the amount Anaheim took that game), but were stymied by a gem of a performance by the Anaheim netminder, who came away with a 1-0 victory. It would have been easy for doubt to creep into the Arizona dressing room, given that last year began with a brutal 11-game losing streak that effectively ended the team’s playoff chances by Halloween.
“We try to keep it positive,” Strome said. “I don’t think we’re ever going to have that bad a start again.”
But thanks in part to Strome’s opening goal against the Ducks in a rematch, Arizona ended up with a 3-2 shootout win against Anaheim in Game No. 3 and any panic about the team can subside for now. After all, this year Antti Raanta is healthy and once again looking solid in net. The team is waiting for shiny new toy Alex Galchenyuk to get healthy, which will only further bolster a young forward corps headlined by Clayton Keller and featuring the young Strome, who was taken after buddy Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel in the 2015 draft.
While Strome has taken longer to make an NHL impact, his big frame and style of play always pegged him as a player who would take time to develop, like a Joe Thornton or Vincent Lecavalier.
To that end, Arizona sent the talented center to the AHL last season, where he was a star for the Tucson Roadrunners, mainly playing on a line with Lawson Crouse and Nick Merkley. Despite playing just 50 games (he played 21 in the NHL as well), Strome led Tucson with 53 points, then struck for eight more in nine playoff games.
“Getting a lot of opportunity was a big part of it,” he said. “We had some older guys that helped out and they were great. You learn the pro style of game. We just tried to have fun and win some hockey games.”
This summer, it was back on the grind as Strome trained with the famed Matt Nichol in Toronto. Getting stronger and faster have always been points of emphasis for Strome and getting to practise and train with NHLers such as Tyler Seguin, Darnell Nurse and Adam Henrique was a great motivator.
“Whether it was on the track or in the gym or on the ice,” he said, “I tried to follow those guys and maintain my focus.”
Naturally Strome’s mission to stick with the Coyotes full-time this year and make an impact. Though his name has been known for years, it’s important to remember he’s only 21 years old. In fact, he was just a wee lad when the Coyotes phased out their original “Kachina” jerseys, which he now wears when Arizona rocks those as third-jersey throwbacks.
“They’re unreal,” Strome said. “No. 1 jersey I’ve ever worn.”