Dylan Strome happy to be the ‘next best thing’ in the draft

Dylan Strome would like to let the hockey world know that, in fact, he wasn’t hurt during the OHL final. He appreciates the concern and all, but is happy to report that he was just fine.

FORT LAUDERDALE – Dylan Strome would like to let the hockey world know that, in fact, he wasn’t hurt during the OHL final. He appreciates the concern and all, but is happy to report that he was just fine.

Such is the life for highly touted prospects these days. Every year, it seems there’s one player with whom scouts fall out of love. They start to nitpick and find things wrong with his game and all of a sudden, they’re talking about his weaknesses more than his strengths. As sure as the swallows flock to Capistrano, it happens. And this year, Dylan Strome is that player.

Much of the scrutiny centers around the fact that Strome, who led the league in scoring in the regular season, was limited to just a goal and two assists in the OHL final, which his Erie Otters lost in five games to the Oshawa Generals. It led some to speculate that Strome had to be playing with an injury. Others began to think that perhaps Strome doesn’t have good enough wheels. And he probably needs to put on some bulk. He said one team in the NHL combine asked him if he was ready to get hit by a transport truck. When he said he wasn’t, he was told to put on more weight.

“When people are saying I’m hurt in playoffs and I’m not, it’s a little bit degrading,” Strome said. “But I guess people thought I was and there’s nothing I can do about it. I didn’t think I had a bad playoff, but obviously I could have done a little better. We didn’t win, but I helped my team get to the final. I could have done a little more, but I think it was pretty good and I think a lot of other prospects would have traded for my position any second of the day.”

They certainly would have traded his regular season, which was capped off with a four-goal, two-assist performance that propelled him to the top of the scoring race. And the fact that he won the scoring championship in a season in which top prospect and Otters teammate Connor McDavid missed 21 games suggests that Strome was not riding a superstar’s coattails. There are concerns about Strome’s skating, but not about much else in his game. “I mean, I played 91 games this season and if that’s all they can find wrong with me, I’ll have to deal with that and not worry about it too much. People are always going to say negative things, but people are always going to say positive things, too.”

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And scouts admit that Strome’s skating is no worse than John Tavares’ was at the same age. And that has never been an issue for Tavares, who has made enormous strides in his skating and has emerged as one of the top offensive players in the league.

“You don’t have to be a great skater, just average,” said Shane Malloy, the author of The Art of Scouting and the co-host of Top Prospect Radio. “With his size and his skill set, as long as he’s average, he’s going to be highly effective. Honestly, I’m not worried about him.”

As everyone has known for some time, there has been a clear delineation in this draft. There are the Nos. 1 and 2 prospects, McDavid and Jack Eichel, and then everyone else. Strome heads the everyone else group, with the Nos. 3 through 7 picks occupied by Strome, defensemen Ivan Provorov and Noah Hanifin and London Knights scoring star Mitch Marner. At the NHL’s availability with the top prospects Thursday afternoon, it had a podium on a riser at the front of the room for McDavid and Eichel, while the other top prospects were clustered at the back of the room. All of which makes the intrigue surrounding the top two picks really boring, but the Nos. 3 through 7 pretty interesting. Complicating the picture is Arizona Coyotes GM Don Maloney, who has said he’s had six legitimate offers for the No. 3 overall pick in addition to a handful of tire kickers.

“It’s a credit to (McDavid and Eichel), they’re two world-class players,” Strome said. “And the third pick is kind of the next best thing. It’s pretty cool to be in talks for that No. 3 pick and to be recognized there, but anything can happen on draft day.”

Strome said he hasn’t interviewed with any teams since the NHL combine in early June, which indicates the teams that are interested in taking him probably already have what they think is the complete book on him. Now comes decision time, a time when Strome will be sweating it out in the stands waiting for his name to be called.

No matter what happens, it shouldn’t be a terribly long wait.