In late June, Peter Chiarelli executed a cap dump trade with the New York Islanders to get forward Jordan Eberle off the books. Eberle, who had been a solid offensive contributor for a number of years with the Oilers, had a tough luck 2016-17 campaign and was downright bad in the playoffs. With big deals for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl coming, the Oilers decided now was the time to sell off another $6 million man.
The return for Eberle was just one piece, Ryan Strome. A former top pick of the Islanders in 2011, Strome has struggled mightily to post offense at the NHL level since his strong performance during the 2014-15 season (17-33-50). He was a non-factor for the club until Doug Weight took over as coach last year, but even then he only finished with 30 points in 69 games.
This summer, I saw a lot of people say that Strome was a good get for the Oilers and that he would be a better fit than Jordan Eberle was for the team. Of course, a lot of the people saying that were just trying to convince themselves of the deal, mainly because few Oiler fans or writers had seen him play with New York. People convinced themselves that the Oilers were getting a more complete player with Strome.
So far, that assessment could not be further from the truth. After a strong debut in the preseason opener against a split-squad Flames team, Strome has been a real non-factor for the Oilers. He’s barely contributed offensively, was moved off the top line during the preseason, and hasn’t done much of anything away from the puck. He’s looked lost in Edmonton.
I went back and watched some of his shifts from the first three games, and he’s stood out to me as being slow, lost and unsure of what to do offensively. It’s not helping that Strome is buried in the bottom-six, but he looks like he is lacking confidence and struggling in a big way right now.
Of course, none of this means the player is a complete waste of time or doomed. After all, it has only been three regular season games and writing someone off in mid-October would be pure foolishness. I have a hard time believing Strome is this slow on a consistent basis and this lost on the ice. I think he’s overthinking things and trying to figure out Todd McLellan’s system.
That could take some time, too. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has looked great early this season, but it took him two seasons to figure out Todd’s system and look comfortable out there. It could take Strome some time of his own to figure out how to play in Edmonton.
It also doesn’t help that Strome, as mentioned above, has been playing on the third line with Drake Caggiula and Jussi Jokinen. Let’s face it, neither Caggiula or Jokinen is known for making those around them better, and neither is an offensive driver. With all due respect to Strome, he simply isn’t good enough offensively to carry a line, he’s a support player.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with being a support player, every team has them and they are necessary to winning. All I’m saying is the Oilers can’t expect offense out of Strome if they are going to play him on the third line with an aging Jokinen and another unproven player in Caggiula, it’s just not going to work.
Strome skated on the top unit in practice yesterday with Patrick Maroon and McDavid, a role that might give him a chance to produce some offense going forward. It may also allow the Oilers to spread the wealth and put Leon Draisaitl elsewhere.
Whatever Todd McLellan decides to do, he needs to figure out a way to get Strome going. The Oilers made their bed when they decided to dump cap and then not use it this off-season, now they have to make the experiment work. Ryan Strome is a better player than he showed in training camp and early this season, but the Oil have to find the right spot.
He may get the chance of a lifetime this Saturday night on McDavid’s wing. We know he can produce when with good offensive players, let’s see if he can turn it around and grab one of those right wing spots, because third line center isn’t working right now.