NHL fans have been spoiled by some remarkable young players over the last decade. It seems that if a player is taken in the first round or two, the expectations for them are ridiculously high. Fans have internalized the idea that forwards tend peak around the age of 25 and start to decline 30. The NHL is a young man’s league, and that seems to cause some panic when highly touted players aren’t rolling up 65-point seasons by the time they are 20.
Especially when the likes of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are racking up points in the backdrop, making highlight reel plays on a nightly basis.
Then there is Ryan Strome. Selected fifth-overall by the New York Islanders in 2011, the Ontario native has struggled mightily in 2015-16. He racked up 50 points a year ago, notching 17 goals along the way. It was a coming-out party of sorts for Strome, who had spent 37 games at the AHL a year prior. The expectations were high coming into this season, but he seemed poised to start cashing in on the potential that made the Isles so high on him back in 2011.
Strome didn’t have the start the Islanders were looking for, however.
After registering five points in the team’s first seven contests, he went five consecutive games without a goal or assist. That was reason enough for the Isles to loan him back to the AHL, sending him a message about hard work and bringing a high effort level to the ice on a nightly basis.
That’s the line the team has taken, at least. Consider what forward Josh Bailey said about the situation, according to Arthur Staple of Newsday:
“There’s only one way to react to it when it happens: Work as hard as you can. That’s really the only option, and knowing Stromie and the kind of guy he is, that’s the way he’s going to view this and come back stronger in just a short time.”
At first glance, it seems like a knee-jerk overreaction. Even the world’s best players sometimes go cold for five or six games. We’ve seen Sidney Crosby, Corey Perry and Jakub Voracek all struggle to score goals this season. And the Pittsburgh Penguins, Anaheim Ducks and Philadelphia Flyers obviously never considered benching these forwards for extended periods of time.
Sometimes a player needs some tough love though, and that seems to be the case with Strome. He even admitted himself recently that sometimes he’s a player that requires a “kick in the pants” to get going. (h/t to NBC Sports for the Tweet)
Talked to Strome last week about needing a kick in the pants. Said he's the type of player who needs that sometimes. Just got a big kick.
— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) November 6, 2015
If simply riding buses for a few days in the AHL isn’t enough of a wake-up call, consider the financial impact of missing time at the NHL level.
Talk about a paycut: Ryan Strome will make a pro-rata share of $70k in #AHL vs his $832,500 #NHL salary. #isles #soundtigers
— Eric Hornick (@ehornick) November 6, 2015
It’s surprising to see the Islanders handle Strome like this, but the drastic option was open to them. And what do they have to lose by trying to kick start him this way? He’s the only player on the team who doesn’t have to clear waivers to be demoted, and it might be an overall message to a handful of New York’s struggling players. The 22-year-old will be back in the NHL soon, and is looking to use his time as a Sound Tiger to regain his confidence.
Michael Fornabaio of CTPost.com captured these comments from Strome, who seems to know what he needs to do to regain effectiveness:
“I think it’s just going to be confidence with the puck. When I’m playing my best, I’m confident, making plays. This is a good chance to do that. It’s a little bit of a kick in the pants. It certainly (stinks). Be a professional. That’s what I’m going to do.”
To his credit, Strome is saying all the right things. Players tend to respond to demotions and benchings in one of two ways. Either they sulk and allow it to drag them down for months at a time, or they keep their chin up and put in the work. Count on Strome to fall into the second category. The Islanders will be watching him closely in the AHL.
Once he starts making confident plays with the puck–and once he starts playing with the edge that makes him a special forward–he will be back on one of the Islanders top two lines.