New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow expected big things this season from his core of young forwards Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and most notably Ryan Strome. That was one of the reasons why Snow was quiet this past offseason. It hasn’t worked out exactly how Snow planned it.
Building Upon Last Season
The 5th overall pick in 2011 draft had a breakout 2014-15 season. The Mississauga, Ontario native scored 17 goals and 33 assists in 81 games. His plus 23 rating led the Islanders and was 16th in the NHL. This offseason Strome moved from his natural position of center to the wing in preparations to play alongside John Tavares. This regular season opened up with Tavares centering Strome and Lee. The line didn’t meet expectations. Strome scored one goal in the team’s first 7 games. Head coach Jack Capuano made the surprised decision to scratch Strome for the team’s October 24th game vs the St. Louis Blues. The 22-year-old did not look like he got the message as he went pointless in his next five games. Strome was careless with the puck in the neutral zone and struggled defensively. Those three factors combined with the team losing four of their last five games sealed Strome’s fate and he was sent to Bridgeport of the American Hockey League.
In the midst of lauding his team, and saying he wants to be better, Strome said: "I'm pissed off. There's no other way to say it." #Isles
— Brett Cyrgalis (@BrettCyrgalis) October 26, 2015
Ryan Strome – Down On The Farm
Strome’s demotion, although deserved, was the only move the Islanders could make. Complacency had set in a bit to his game during the first 12 games of the season, especially in the loss to the Canadiens on Nov. 5, the day before Strome’s demotion, he was making too many soft plays and simply not working hard enough for a player still on his entry-level deal. He is the only forward still on his entry-level contract and doesn’t have to pass through waivers in order to be loaned to the AHL. Strome needed to regain the confidence he showed last season. The last time he skated in a Sound Tigers jersey Strome led the AHL in scoring. In 37 games, he had 13 goals and 36 assists. He was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team even though he didn’t play an AHL game for the last 6 weeks of the 2013-14 season. I was in attendance for Strome’s first game in Bridgeport in November. He was quiet for that game and the next couple. He started to regain his form and scored two goals in his final four games. Ryan Strome’s Bridgeport timeout lasted three weeks. The numbers weren’t what Snow and Capuano needed to see. Sound Tigers head coach Brent Thompson laid it out perfectly.
“For him coming down, work ethic is going to be a key for him. Shift to shift, work ethic and playing his game. Bottom line, he’s an elite player in this league.”
While Strome was down there, several teammates, including housemate John Tavares texted him to remind him how important he is to the team.
“I didn’t really expect any of them to reach out and when they did, that meant the world to me,”
The Nino Effect
When Strome was sent down, it was unknown how he would accept the demotion. Would he see it as a wake-up to work harder and right the wrongs of his game? The flip side would be how Nino Niederreiter accepted his demotion. Niederreiter was the 5th overall pick of the Islanders in the 2010 draft. He played the first nine games of the 2010-11 season before being returned to the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League. Nino made the Isles out of camp the following season. His $2.795 million dollar cap hit was needed to reach the salary cap floor. Niederreiter skated on the 4th line with the likes of Marty Reasoner and Jay Pandalfo, scoring one goal and was a minus 29 rating in 55 games. He spent the following season in Bridgeport. While having an all-star season (28 goals, 50 points in 74 games), he requested a trade. His wish was granted when he was shipped to Minnesota for Cal Clutterbuck at the 2013 draft.
Since his return from Bridgeport, Strome has found a home on the the Islanders third line. While he was in Bridgeport, their third line of Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolay Kulemin and Steve Bernier struggled. While the other three lines performed well. The third line struggled scoring two goals in the eight games Strome was in Bridgeport. Strome’s return immediately paid dividends as he scored a goal in his first game back vs Florida on Nov. 27. In his seven games since his return, Strome has 2 goals and 3 assists. The line has gelled since its formation. Grabovski has 2 goals since pairing with Strome.
“The easy thing to do would be to sulk and complain, and I never want to be that person,” Strome said. “I’m happy the way I worked, I got rewarded now and I’ve got another opportunity.”
Noel Fogelman is a 5-time Emmy Winner and started his career working on the Buffalo Sabres Pre and postgame shows for the Empire Sports Network. He then went to Bristol, CT to work at ESPN on NHL2Night and its coverage of the Stanley Cup. Follow me on Twiter @thefirstnoel19