When Ryan Strome was drafted fifth overall in the 2011 draft, much of the talk was about his incredible offensive upside. He scored highlight reel goals, completed passes he had no business making, and had a knack for finding the score sheet. But, in his second season with the Islanders, the 21-year-old Strome is showing he’s a 200-foot player.
Certainly, the expected offensive upside is there. In fact, in just 24 games, Strome has already posted four goals and 17 points, leaving him a single point from tying his rookie total of 18. But it’s his play away from the puck that has been a revelation for the Islanders and coach Jack Capuano.
Through 24 games this season, no Islanders player, defenseman or forward, that has skated at least 50 minutes of 5-on-5 has started more shifts in the defensive zone. While that shows incredible confidence in the 21-year-old by Capuano, it also stands to reason that he’s earned each of those defensive minutes. And he has, because not only is he taking those starts, he’s driving play out of the Islanders zone.
Of the top 100 skaters in the NHL in terms of defensive zone starts, there are only three skaters that have played a comparable amount of minutes that are driving possession more positively than Strome: Marcus Kruger, Milan Lucic, and linemate Anders Lee.
Detractors may harp on the lack of truly tough competition, but it’s hard to have many gripes about a sophomore player that a coach has no fears of giving defensive starts to. The thing about Strome, too, is that he’s centering a line that doesn’t necessarily have any of New York’s big stars on it. With Brock Nelson and Lee on his wings, you wouldn’t be far off in saying Strome is the star of his line.
One area of concern, however, could be that his underlying numbers – specifically his shooting percentage that is sitting at 11.25 percent – seem unsustainable. But you can’t take on-ice shooting percentage into account without considering on-ice save percentage, which has been rather low for Strome. Of all Islanders players who’ve seen 50 minutes of even-strength, Strome has the sixth-worst total at .898.
What those do make for is a PDO that shouldn’t shift much over the course of the season. Regressing to 100 is normal and Strome is currently at 101.1, so as his shooting percentage dips a little and his production possibly slows, his defensive totals should actually increase. There’s a bit of give and take in the underlying totals but there shouldn’t be reason for concern with Strome.
Comments about the former Niagara IceDog when he entered the league were that he could be an elite playmaker. Scouts weren’t wrong, but they definitely didn’t give his defensive game enough credit. Be it part of Capuano’s trust in Strome or simply how Strome is working in his coach’s system, the young Islander is quietly becoming a star.