While the transition from junior hockey directly to the NHL is formidable, few have managed, in recent years, to make this enormous jump.
Outside of a number one pick overall, or close to a number one, only a handful have managed to successfully leap over this hurdle. Reasons, club officials cite, are the age barrier, strength and experience at the professional level.
Arizona Coyotes’ coach Dave Tippett, for one, cautions about any excitement generated by such movement. “Before,” he indicated, “these guys played with teenagers. Now, they’re in completion with men for very high playing jobs.”
One clearly under a microscope during this camp training camp period is Dylan Strome, the Coyotes first pick, and the third selection overall, in this past June’s draft. Regarded as a scoring machine with Erie, and a dynamic scoring partner of Connor McDavid, the overall number one selection, Strome, who scored 45 goals, assisted on 84 others for 129 scoring points, was used to having the spotlight and center of attention.
“This is different for me,” he said during the Coyotes rookie camp in the Gila River Arena. “In juniors, you’re pretty much guaranteed a spot on the roster. Here, you’re fighting for a job and against guys who have been here for a long time.”
Clearly, Strome recognizes two formable challenges on two clear levels. First, there is the confrontation of actually making the Coyotes’ opening day roster. Equally important, Strome has a daunting task of beating out several veterans. As a center, he is up against four experienced centers and two of whom the Coyotes brought back. In an effort to create a smooth transition from a terrible 2014-15, where the Coyotes finished with the second-to-worst record in the NHL, to a team now generated by speed, Strome says he is ready to tackle these roadblocks.
There is also another consideration. At work is also the way NHL teams develop players. In the case of the NFL and NBA, players are drafted for impact, and to start immediately. For major league baseball and the NHL, players are selected with development. Plus, NHL organizations tend to be conservative and cautious to move players in position where may not be able to succeed or overwhelmed.
For his part, Strome recognizes the climb directly in front, and says he relishes the test.
“I have to focus on what I can do,” he said. “Sure, there are guys in front of me, and these guys have been around.”
Facing a Traffic Jam
For now, Martin Hanzal, Boyd Gordon, Antoine Vermette and Kyle Chipchura, the club’s contingent of veteran centericemen, stand directly in Strome’s path. Toss in rookie Max Domi, who is expected to make the team, and that’s five ahead of Strome on the depth chart at center.
If Strome, at 18-years-old, is unable to crack this log-jam, the Coyotes’ organization will not hesitate to send him back to juniors. To Strome, that maybe a crushing blow, here at the start of his NHL career, but this is the way the NHL operates.
Save solid blue-chippers like McDavid, his former teammate at Erie or Jack Eichel, the number two pick in the 2015 draft to the Sabres, Strome will have to make an impression of worthy proportion to prevent his return to juniors.