It’s no secret that the New York Rangers are searching for centers this offseason. With Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp testing the free agency market, general manager Chris Drury will be looking for a cap-friendly center to fill the void. Barring any developments that lead to a deal being reached with Strome or Copp, the former’s brother, Dylan Strome, should be a target of the Rangers.
The Chicago Blackhawks forward posted a career-high 22 goals en route to a 48-point 2021-22 season. Per Bob McKenzie on Twitter, the 25-year-old will not be receiving a qualifying offer, making him an unrestricted free agent when free agency begins on July 13.
With just north of $10 million in cap space, finding an affordable option could be critical to the Rangers’ offseason plans. Similar to his brother, Ryan, Dylan could use the opportunity in New York to find his game and emerge as a quality NHL center.
The Rangers have several players needing new contracts, including Kaapo Kakko, and face an even tighter crunch after 2022-23, as K’Andre Miller, Filip Chytil, and Alexis Lafreniere will need new deals as well. The trade route seems to be predominantly rentals, and bringing back Copp or Strome could spell cap trouble down the road.
With Dylan Strome looking to be hitting the market as a 25-year-old starting to find his game, Drury should certainly contact his agent and pursue bringing the Ontario native to the Big Apple.
What Dylan Strome Would Bring to the Rangers
Strome was drafted in 2015 by the Arizona Coyotes third overall. He was unable to stick with the Coyotes and was dealt during the 2018-19 season to the Blackhawks. There, he started to find his game, scoring 51 points in 58 games after being traded. Since that 2018-19 resurgence, he has been inconsistent but was stable in 2021-22, producing 48 points.
He spent most of his minutes alongside Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane and saw significant power-play time, registering 16 points on the man-advantage. Although he would not benefit from that star power should he come to the Rangers, the ability to solidify himself amid other young players could be an attractive option.
Strome finished last season with a 52.33 face-off percentage, which would have been the best on the Rangers in 2021-22, topping Mika Zibanejad’s 52.32. With his shooting percentage of 17.5, which led to his career-high in goals, along with his playmaking ability, he would be a fit with players like Vitali Kravtsov, Sammy Blais, and others on a potential third line.
There is also flexibility offered by bringing in Strome, as he can play both center and wing similar to Copp, who Drury acquired for that same reason. The former third overall selection could be plugged in throughout the top-nine, which would give head coach Gerard Gallant maneuverability should there be injuries or cause for lineup changes.
Paving the Way for Chytil to Make His Jump
Weighing on Drury’s mind is a choice that originated when the Rangers released their rebuild letter to the fans. Will the young prospects be able to lead this organization to the promised land? If there were a time for that, this next season would be it.
After an impressive postseason, Chytil has put Drury and Gallant in a difficult position. Is it time to give him the reigns to the second-line center position, or do they need to find someone to slot into the role? A player like Strome can allow the Czech-native to make the jump while offering an alternative option to the coaching staff should he fail to adapt to his new role.
Strome made $3 million per season for the last two years, and his qualifying offer would have been $3.6 million. He will likely get a similar number to that on the open market. That would allow the Rangers to have cap flexibility without overspending on free agents or trading away their young talent.
Chytil and Strome down the middle as the number two and three centers is undoubtedly a wager. Both could fall into their inconsistent habits and hurt the Rangers. But Chytil’s play gives you optimism, and Strome has proven to be a valuable commodity with the Blackhawks, and he could be playing with the up-and-coming Vitali Kravtsov and Sammy Blais if he slots in on the third line. But if the staff deems Chytil not ready to make the leap, Strome could be paired with Kakko and Panarin in the top six.
Blais showed his ability to create and generate significant forecheck pressure before his season-ending ACL injury, and we all know how good Panarin makes his linemates. Strome would benefit from that, like his elder brother, and if he can handle the puck well in close quarters, he will be able to excel in the Rangers’ system too.
It is no sure thing going after Dylan to replace his older brother Ryan. Though maybe it is in the Strome blood to play well in New York, and with his upside and the Rangers’ cap woes, the younger Strome could be the solution to Drury’s conundrum down the middle going into the 2022-23 season.