Jordan Eberle spent seven seasons with the Edmonton Oilers. In every one of those seasons Eberle played at a 20-goal, 50-point pace. Over the course of his career Eberle scored 165 goals and 384 points in 520 games, or 26 goals and 61 points per 82 games. There were only five times in his career that he went ten consecutive games without a goal. Unfortunately, two of those cold streaks happened this past season, with one of them being a thirteen-game slump otherwise known as “the playoffs”. This off-season Eberle and his $6M price tag was sent to New York in exchange for Ryan Strome.
Strome is much less expensive than Eberle at just $2.5M for this season, but he’s also a pretty risky replacement. Not only is Strome’s best offensive season comparable to Eberle’s worst, Strome’s best offensive season was in 2014-15, which is now three seasons ago. There’s a way in which that’s a concern, and a way in which that speaks to Strome’s potential.
After Strome was selected fifth overall in 2011, Strome’s career trajectory looked excellent for several seasons. He dominated the OHL for two years, and then in his first professional season scored 49 points in 37 AHL games while putting up nearly half a point per game in the NHL. The 50-point 2014-15 season followed and the 21-year-old Strome looked to be well on his way to a very successful NHL career.
But the last two seasons have been a struggle. Near the end of a very disappointing regular season in 2015-16, Islanders coach Jack Capuano said this about Strome and a few other Islanders he thought were underachieving:
We’ve struggled with a few guys, for sure, about their compete level and their work ethic. It has to be better. There’s no doubt that those guys they have to figure out at some point… to pick their shit up and start playing.
The things that Capuano mentioned are the kinds of things that are very difficult for outsiders like me to measure, but Capuano’s frustrations did seem to be grounded in a decline in Strome’s process. Points aside, Strome’s shot rate was in decline going from 2.4 per game in 2013-14 to 2.2 in 2014-15 to 1.9 in 2015-16. The kick in the behind didn’t result in the kind of change Capuano was hoping for, at least in terms of results. Strome’s point production didn’t recover in 2016-17 until after Capuano was fired and his shot rate (over the full season) further decreased to 1.7 shots per game. Things improved somewhat when Capuano was replaced as coach by Doug Weight, but Strome’s season also ended early when he went down with a broken right wrist.
Ryan Strome has two very different histories, an increasingly distant history where he was on the precipice of becoming a top-100 player in the NHL, and a more recent history where he’s struggled mightily to live up to that potential. Not many players in that second situation come off a significant injury into a chance to play with the best player in the world, and that makes projecting Strome’s 2016-17 almost impossible. Strome’s situation is unique. The right side is in flux in Edmonton, and Strome has an enormous opportunity to grab that spot coming out of camp. If he fails to grab it, Strome might be here for just one year of struggle before the Oilers look to other options. But if he succeeds he might be here for a decade putting up big offensive seasons as Connor McDavid’s partner on the first line. The opportunity before him is obvious. The time to grab it is now.