Dylan Strome’s ‘well-rounded’ game has flourished in first Capitals season

·5 min read

Strome’s ‘well-rounded’ game has flourished in first Caps season originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

ARLINGTON, Va. — When Dylan Strome arrived in D.C. last summer, his career was at a crossroads.

The raw numbers from his 2021-22 campaign with the Chicago Blackhawks were respectable: He enjoyed a 20-goal season in 69 games while setting a new career high in average ice time. However, there was a lot of uncertainty about his role and future with the franchise. Strome was a healthy scratch early in the year, his name cropped up in trade rumors and it wasn’t until the team made a midseason coaching change that he started getting more opportunities at his natural position of center.

Even though he finished the season strong, the Blackhawks declined to issue him a qualifying offer. Strome then signed a prove-it deal with the Capitals for one year and $3.5 million. With the Capitals expected to be without Nicklas Backstrom for the first few months of the year, they were able to give him the chance to run with a top-six role.

Strome did exactly that. The 26-year-old heads into the Capitals’ final eight games of their regular season schedule with 57 points, tied for his career-high he set in 2018-19. His play impressed the front office enough to earn a five-year, $25 million extension over the All-Star Break that ensured he would spend the prime years of his career with Washington.

“It’s never easy coming to a new team and you don’t know what to expect,” Strome said. “You don’t know the coaching staff. You don’t know the training staff. So, I think everyone here made me feel comfortable right away. I got into town nice and early and got acclimated with the guys and the rink and new gear and stuff like that and just tried to carry it over through into preseason then into the regular season.”

The biggest difference between his role with the Capitals and the one he held in Chicago has been responsibility for the puck. Strome skated alongside star right wing Patrick Kane for nearly two-thirds of his ice time in five-on-five play last season. Kane, a talented distributor who can create his own open lanes to the net, was at his best when handling the puck. The same can be said for Strome, who instead had to adapt his game to complement his linemate.

In D.C., he’s found a much more natural fit in Alex Ovechkin. The 37-year-old left wing plays off the puck more than he ever has in his career. With Strome generating his own entries into the offensive zone, he’s felt more comfortable leaning on the style of play that made him the No. 3 overall pick in 2015.

“I think I can create a little bit more when I hold the puck more,” Strome said. “That’s the big thing for me is carrying the puck through the neutral zone with speed. I’ve been doing that the last month and creating more plays in the neutral zone and using my puck skills…I can create more going into the zone and, especially on the power play too, I can carry it in. I like making plays just over the blue line so sometimes you gotta be a bit risky but if you’re confident in yourself to make the plays, you make them.”

The addition has benefited Ovechkin and his entire line as well. In 474 minutes of five-on-five play with both skaters on the ice this season, the Capitals have an goals for percentage of 56.8%. When Strome steps off and Ovechkin plays with another center, that number drops to 45.9%. The Blackhawks saw a similar trend with Kane: 55.7% with Strome last season, 41.9% without.

“He’s been really good for us and so I think some of his best stretches have been with Alex on the left wing and I think that he’s a guy that can make plays but yet he’s capable of scoring goals,” head coach Peter Laviolette said. “He does a good job on the power play because he can make plays. He sees the ice. He attacks into areas where he sets himself up and, maybe more importantly, to set other people up…He has a good release. He has a good wrist shot and so he’s been a really good well-rounded player for us and an important player for us.”

Strome has taken off over the last month, racking up 20 points over his last 14 games dating back to Feb. 25. His average of 1.43 points per game over that span ranks seventh in the NHL among skaters to appear in as many games.

When the Capitals do break for the offseason, stepping up his output on the power play will be chief among Strome’s goals for next season. He’s already set a new career high with 19 power-play points this season including 16 assists, but with a new contract in hand, Strome is now invested in improving their ceiling in 2023-24 and he sees special teams as an important factor.

Special teams are a big part of the game so can up the power-play numbers and help the power play be more successful,” Strome said. “Not sure what percentage we’re at (21.9%, 12th in the NHL) but maybe bump it up one, two or three points next year can add to four, five or six more wins and that gets us in the playoffs and I think that’s where I’m gonna be focusing.”