Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Many players have impressed during the first seven games of the New York Islanders season, as you would expect with the team off to a 5-2-0 start, but, despite not getting as much attention as his peers, Ryan Strome has taken the biggest leap forward of any player on the team.
Strome’s relative anonymity this season can be explained by three factors. There are a host of new faces on the Isles, and new players will always attract the attention of the fan base. With Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy off to hot starts for their new club on defense, Cory Conacher, Nikolay Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski showing what they can do up front, and the new goaltenders Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson between the pipes, there’s a lot of new personnel for the fan base to get a grip on.
Strome also has to compete with the torrid starts of some of his more familiar teammates. John Tavares is among the league leaders in points this year, trailing the leaders by a single point. Kyle Okposo and Brock Nelson are both averaging over a point per game, with Nelson registering a team high four goals so far (on only 10 shots).
Possibly the biggest factor in Strome’s lack of fan fare is the fact he has yet to light the lamp himself this year. Nothing gets people’s attention like goal scoring.
How can I be so enamored with the early season performance of a player that does not even have a single goal? Because I know the goal scoring will come, it is just a matter of time before he nets his first of the year, (heck, tonight against the Stars would be nice) and Strome’s game outside of his goal scoring has taken a huge stride forward in every other way.
Last season, Strome’s rookie campaign, there were times when he looked overpowered by the physical player of his opponents, failing to make an impact in the so-called ‘dirty areas’. This may have been because as a natural center playing on the wing he was not comfortable grinding in front of the net or in the high traffic areas, that has not been the case this year. The 21 year old has been strong on the puck, especially along the boards and in the corners, something that does not show up on the score sheet, but makes a huge impact on games.
Speaking of the score sheet, despite being without a goal, Strome has notched six points in seven games on the season. All of his assists have come at even strength as well, meaning he is getting the job done at 5 on 5, and the Isles have been a terrible five-on-five team over the past few seasons. Getting consistent production from your depth players at even strength is a huge bonus for any team. Strome’s six even strength assists rank him behind only Henrik Zetterberg and Joe Colborne in the NHL in that category.
He showed that he can put up decent numbers last season, scoring 18 points in 37 games for the Isles, it looks as though he is ready to make a big improvement in his production ratio this year as well. I do not expect him to stay t a near point-per-game pace, but to expect between 50-60 points from him this season does not seem unreasonable. That kind of scoring rate from a third line player, which is where he has played most of this season, is fantastic.
Maybe the most impressive part of his development is that Strome has made this progress despite actually getting less ice time than he was receiving last season, a product of the Isles stronger roster. He is averaging only 13:04 per game this year, more than 2 minutes less than his 15:11 rate from last season. If he continues to play as well as he has in the early stages, Jack Capuano will likely be inclined to provide the young man with more ice.
Strome’s game has evolved drastically from last season to now, and with even more experience and seasoning he is sure to continue to progress, but he is free to do so without the added pressure of being the team’s go-to-guy. Playing a limited role takes the spotlight off of him, but if he keeps up his current form, he won’t be flying under the radar for much longer.