June 23, 2011

Skilled Strome could be first-round option for B's

By Kirk Luedeke

If the Boston Bruins adhere to their traditional draft philosophy of grabbing the best player available, Niagara center Ryan Strome might be a viable option for the Stanley Cup champions in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn., on Friday. Ryan Strome, left, battles for the puck with Boone Jenner during the CHL Top Prospects Game. (photo: Getty)

Strome is one of the more creative and productive offensive players in the entire draft class. He just missed out on capturing the OHL’s scoring crown in his second season with 106 points (the same total Tyler Seguin and Taylor Hall led with a year ago), but he missed a few games due to a concussion suffered late in the season when he was punched in the head by Owen Sound forward and Avalanche prospect Joey Hishon.

Strome’s 33 goals and 73 assists show off his acumen as both a set-up man and a finisher. Blessed with tremendous hands, excellent speed and the vision and hockey sense to be a threat to score every time he’s on the ice, Strome is pushing for top-five or six selection, but would be hard for Boston to pass on if he’s there at No. 9.

Like fellow top-10 candidate and OHL teammate Dougie Hamilton, Strome has excelled in the many challenges he’s faced during his draft season. He admitted that having Hamilton alongside him every step of the way has been a highlight of the experience overall.

“He was actually in the room beside me,” Strome said of his Niagara teammate, when the two completed the fitness portion of the NHL Scouting Combine together in early June. “Going through the whole season with him — the top prospects game and the Subway Series (against Russia) with him — it’s been great. To have a good buddy going through the process with you makes it a lot easier.”

At a shade under 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, Strome is lean and, like most hockey players his age, still has a lot of filling out to do. Beyond that, there aren’t a lot of negatives associated with this player beyond the need to bring the intensity and consistency from shift to shift.

“Strome is highly skilled and has the hockey sense to maximize his talent,” an NHL scout told hockeyournal.com recently. “Like a lot of young kids, he’ll go through stretches when he doesn’t look like he’s doing all that much, but then he can take over a game in just a couple of shifts.”

Strome was a key factor in helping Niagara to reach the OHL’s Eastern Conference final series after posting a franchise-best 45 wins and 96 points.

“We’ve been successful (this season) because of the way Ryan and Dougie emerged as key players for us at their respective positions,” Niagara head coach Marty Williamson said during the season. “It’s been a huge boost to our team dynamic and great to see so soon from them.”

Although Strome struggled to make a difference against the high-powered Mississauga St. Michaels Majors in the third round of the OHL playoffs, one NHL scout didn’t feel the need to hold it against the youngster too much.

“That was a tough team Strome went up against, one of the best in the entire CHL,” the scout said. “I thought he played well in the first couple of rounds, and we have to remember that he’s only in his second full season of major junior. With his talent level and creativity, I think he’s going to do a lot more going forward.”

When asked to describe his own style of play, Strome didn’t stop at just one NHL player to model himself after.

“For me, it’s hard to put a finger on it,” he said. “I try to draw from different players and their games. I like Joe Thornton and how he can slow the game down but at the same time I like Patrick Kane, how he’s very elusive and creative. I like Daniel Briere, too — he puts the puck in the net and he’s a big-game player. I try not to draw from just one guy; I like to play gritty, smart and kind of a skill game, too.”

Although Boston doesn’t necessarily need another young top-flight center, with veteran Marc Savard’s long-term status in doubt given his concussion history, if Strome is on the board at No. 9, he would likely be the team’s best player available.

One obstacle to seeing that scenario play out on Friday night is the fact that he Winnipeg franchise is another team rumored to be interested in Strome. Picking seventh overall, the relocated Thrashers could prove to be a fly in the ointment for those Bruins fans hoping to see their team snap up one of the best scoring talents available.

Passionate about the hockey and the NHL, the Mississauga native grew up rooting for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but admitted that the draft is going to be the thrill of his young life. His allegiances to the Blue and White will end and be transferred to whichever team calls his name (assuming Toronto GM Brian Burke doesn’t figure out how to get into the top six to steal Strome away).

“My loyalties will change depending on where I end up,” Strome said. “It’s something I’m so excited about after watching the draft in the past and seeing all those guys get picked, knowing that I have the chance to do the same.”

Kirk Luedeke will be in St. Paul, Minn., this weekend to cover the NHL Entry Draft for New England Hockey Journal and hockeyjournal.com. He can be reached at kluedeke@hockeyjournal.com.