It is never easy waiting for young players to fully develop, but if teams have patience, they will reap the benefits. The New York Islanders preach that philosophy under general manager Garth Snow and it is starting to show results for forward Ryan Strome. The Mississauga, Ontario native currently sports a four-game point streak and continues to improve his play under interim head coach Doug Weight.
“He is engaging and cognizant defensively,” Weight said. “I told him I needed better plays at certain times and he’s done that. He’s not skiing out there and is shooting the puck well. He is producing and starting to get good results.”
Due to his prodigious breakout in the Ontario Hockey League, scouts projected Strome for quick stardom. His four seasons with the Niagara Ice Dogs justified those thoughts as he averaged 30 goals per year and stood out with a 106-point campaign in 2010-11. The Islanders anticipated a smooth transition to the pro ranks and selected him fifth overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft ahead of future standouts Mika Zibanejad and Mark Scheifele.
Strome made his professional debut with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers at the end of the 2012-13 season and spent a year and a half seeking to find his niche while shuffling between the Islanders and Bridgeport.
Remnants of his potential began to showcase itself in his first full NHL season where he set career-bests in games played (81), goals (17), and points (50). Many expected Strome to expand on his promise, but he unexpectedly regressed with declines in every major statistical category. As his difficulties continued into this season, Strome was a healthy scratch in two games and the frustrations mounted.
“Early in the year, we had some ups and downs, but we stayed together as a group,” Strome said. “We are professional athletes and have the right to be criticized. That is part of the job, but we always stay together.”
After enduring his most humbling NHL experiences, Strome gradually improved his play since Weight’s appointment as interim head coach last month. Weight challenged Strome and wanted him to reestablish the mentality he had from his OHL days. Strome accepted Weight’s motivation, collecting six points in a four-game span, dating back January 31 against the Washington Capitals.
“All I told him was that he needed to elevate his game,” Weight said. “I believe in the kid. He is coachable and is a really good kid. He wants to get better or he is not going to play. We had a couple of really good talks and he is gaining confidence. It’s nothing I did. We are just putting him on the ice in good situations.”
“When the pucks go in the net, you seem to feel a little better about yourself and sometimes when they are not going in, you get down,” Strome explains. “I feel like you need to stay even-keel all the time, but when the pucks go in, you get a little confidence and begin to feel good about yourself.”
Continuity on the second line with Brock Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier also benefitted Strome of late. Strome’s newfound confidence helped set the tone for the Islanders in a dramatic 6-5 overtime victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 7. Two minutes into the contest, Strome netted his eighth goal of the season on his own rebound and assisted Nelson on a key goal in the second period.
“I think when you do the little things and make a good play, you get rewarded,” Strome said. “We are working hard and doing the right things. Sometimes they don’t go in, but when they do, you got to ride the wave. Brock and I are very close and it’s important for our line to provide secondary scoring.”
Although individuals are sometimes quick to write off young players for poor performance, they fail to recognize that player development is a lengthy process filled with a series of peaks and obstacles. Four seasons into his NHL career, Strome appears ready to evolve into a quality player, thanks to a strong support system and belief in his ability.
“I have known Strome for a long time, dating back to when we drafted him,” Weight said. “Everybody is different. I can be tough on Ryan. He can handle things and he wants to hear it. I am honest with him and in his ear during the game.”