Chicago Blackhawks forward Dylan Strome returns from COVID-19 protocols with a big role awaiting him: playing alongside Patrick Kane

Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS
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Chicago Blackhawks forward Dylan Strome received good news and even better news Friday.

He was removed from COVID-19 protocols and was elevated to the top line with Patrick Kane and Brandon Hagel ahead of the game against the Minnesota Wild at the United Center.

“I was good,” Strome said. “I had no symptoms.”

The Hawks also welcomed back Kirby Dach and matched him with Philipp Kurashev and MacKenzie Entwistle.

Dach’s nightly role is cemented, but for Strome, he never could anticipate what’s on the menu: a healthy scratch, fourth line or the top six, though at least he had become a regular in the lineup recently.

“I felt really good before I got COVID, offense starting to come and getting some good ice time,” Strome said. ”Feel confident with the puck, making some plays. Just got to keep it rolling.”

The Hawks certainly take into account Strome’s skill setting up teammates on offense, but lately he has been bringing value in a more surprising way: on faceoffs.

“Whenever you’re in there you want to start with the puck,” Strome said. “I feel like it helps your line create chances, maybe play a little bit more in the offensive zone.

“Sometimes when you lose a faceoff, you’re chasing it around for 30 seconds, and by the time you’ve got to get it in and get off.”

Entering Friday, he won 54.5% of his draws, the best rate of his career. It’s the Hawks’ second-best percentage to Jonathan Toews’ 59.6%

“That’s what we need,” coach Derek King said. “We can’t just keep sending Tazer out for every draw. Next thing you know he’s out there 30 minutes, so it’s nice to have that option.”

Added Strome, who has spent time working on faceoffs, including watching video with development coach Yanic Perreault: “I think it’s a lot of timing. “We do a lot of after practice every day, learning from (Toews), seeing how he does it.”

Toews extended the skill’s impact beyond the puck drop.

“Five-on-five, during the play, I feel like everyone tends to play better when they’re mentally committed to winning puck battles and stick battles, those loose pucks,” Toews said.

“Same thing goes for faceoffs. You just learn what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at, what you have to work on. ... When you’re into it, when you’re winning draws, the rest of your game flows.”

King has wanted to elevate Strome but has had to build trust that Strome won’t be a liability in other areas of the ice.

“It’s a good fit for him,” King said of the line with Kane and Hagel. “I’ve had him down at the bottom group. That’s not a great spot for him. He’s done well enough down there, but with his skill level with Kaner and Hags — Hags being a guy that’s going to go hunt pucks — I think it’s a good fit.

“Plus you’ve got a faceoff guy. It’s nice, especially with Kaner. I’m sure he likes to win those draws and get the puck as quick as he can.”

Strome has savored any opportunity he can get for ice time and the chance to get into a rhythm.

Strome entered the protocols Jan. 13 and missed three games. If his positive test had come a month later, he might have skipped quarantine all together.

Under the NHL’s revised COVID-19 policy, the league will forego testing asymptotic players, coaches and staff who are fully vaccinated after the All-Star break next month.

“They changed the rule now — I would’ve never have known I had it,” Strome said. “Kind of crazy how that happens, but I guess the vaccine and the booster worked for that reason.

“So I was happy I got those and had no symptoms and fiancee and baby never ended up getting it. That’s good.”

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