While the Chicago Blackhawks appeared to have benefitted from the firing of Jeremy Colliton on Saturday, one player might benefit more than the others: Dylan Strome.
Strome found himself in the Colliton doghouse to start this season with no chance of getting out of it. Strome has appeared in only six Blackhawks games this season after being healthy scratched by the Colliton-led coaching staff for the first five games of the season. Once inserted into the lineup, Strome played fourth-line minutes for one game before again being banished back to the press box for another two games.
This has been a recurring theme with the Blackhawks under Colliton.
When a player fell out of favor with the Colliton, the player had little chance to redeem themselves. Strome was a prime example of that. Colliton, hailed as the great communicator, only really communicated well with players he liked. Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times highlighted this notion in his most recent piece:
After Kirby Dach was injured in 2020–21 and Jonathan Toews was out with his then-mysterious illness, Strome was thrust into a more spotlighted role. With the Blackhawks in full rebuild mode, Strome’s defensive shortcoming were on full display. Strome had been on Colliton’s list for a while, being healthy scratched multiple times in the season prior. However in 2020–21, it was the beginning of the end, as Strome was healthy scratched for two must-win games against Nashville. With the Blackhawks’ slim playoff chances hanging in the balance and team in desperate need of some offense, scratching Strome was a really puzzling move.
Colliton on scratching Strome last night: “He was a victim of circumstance where we felt we needed seven defenseman… I’ve got no problem with Stromer. He’s playing hard and trying to do what we’re asking him to do.”
— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) April 22, 2021
Despite Colliton’s comments, it was obvious that this was the final straw for Strome. Strome played out the final string of the season with the Blackhawks riding a seven-game losing streak into the offseason.
Despite his tepid relationship with Colliton, then-General Manager Stan Bowman signed Strome to a two-year extension in the offseason. The hope was that Strome could get back to his play prior to his ankle injury in 2019–20, however, he was just never given the chance under Colliton.
Not a fourth-line player
Despite the insistence of the Blackhawks to play Strome on the fourth line, he does not play hockey like a fourth-line player. He does not check well and is not strong defensively, but that was where Colliton and his staff insisted on playing Strome this season.
When placed in the correct offensive system, Strome can produce solid offensive numbers. Remember, Strome was the third overall pick in 2015 NHL Entry Draft for the chronically rebuilding Arizona Coyotes. Strome had come off a season in which he scored 129 points with the Erie Otters, more than the first overall pick, Connor McDavid, who posted 120.
In his first game with the Blackhawks on Nov. 27, 2018, Strome had one goal and one assist. In 58 games in the 2018–19 season, he put up 51 points, with 17 goals and 34 assists, which amounted to 0.88 points per game. He averaged 17:04 minutes of ice time per game. One could surmise that Strome’s success was directly related to the Blackhawks’ style of play that season. If everyone remembers correctly, the Blackhawks scrapped Colliton’s hybrid man-to-man system in favor of a free-wheeling, offensive-minded style of play.
Now that Colliton is gone and Derek King is the interim head coach of the Blackhawks, Strome should be playing a nightly basis. In his first game under King, Strome played in 13:45, which is not a ton of time, but King is still feeling out his new group of players.
In reality, Strome does not have a spot on this team—not because he cannot play in the NHL, but because his style of play. He is a 6-foot-3, 200-pound forward that does not win corner battles or use his body. He is a below average skater who needs to be in the right offensive system to hone his diminishing skill set. On this team, he should not be taking minutes away from Dach at center and he is not better than Toews or Tyler Johnson at center, so he is a man without a role on the Blackhawks.
The best possible solution for Strome is to play well in his time under King and hope the Blackhawks can find him a new team, a team that does not need him to be a defensive forward or play him on the fourth line. If the Blackhawks do that for Strome, he should get a second lease on life this season.