Dylan Strome met with Washington Capitals media for the first time on Tuesday. The 25-year-old center is five days removed from signing a one-year, $3.5 million contract with the Capitals. Strome will likely start the season as the team’s second-line center, replacing injured franchise legend Nicklas Backstrom.
During the press conference, Strome said the word “excited” six different times – including once where he got adverb-happy and added a really really flourish There’s good reason why he’s feeling optimism.
Strome is coming off a challenging season with the Chicago Blackhawks where he was a frequent topic of discussion in the media. Per The Hockey Writers, Strome spent the first 20 games of the 2021-22 season in the Blackhawks’ bottom six, averaging around 13 minutes a night. Strome was healthy-scratched by head coaches Jeremy Colliton and Derek King 13 different times, including a stretch where he sat seven of the team’s first 11 games. Strome was perceived as a one-dimensional player, not making enough of his ice time, and being weak defensively, similar to Jakub Vrana’s plight during his final year in DC.
The Blackhawks ultimately parted ways with Strome in July, deciding to a non-tender a qualifying offer to the blossoming young center that would have paid him $3.6 million.
“I think it was a process I never really expected to go through this early (in my career),” Strome said of free agency. “I kind of found out on Thursday (July 7) or Friday (July 8) that the Blackhawks weren’t going to be giving me a qualifying offer (on July 11) so your mind quickly switches to what’s going to next and where you’re going to end up. At the time, there were obviously 31 other teams that I could have gone to that wanted me so, you know, it was a crazy couple of days.
“Washington reached out a couple times my agent was telling me,” Strome continued. “Obviously, you’re kind of at the mercy of when you get a call from your agent. I was just sitting by my phone and I got the call on Thursday. I hung out around my house on Wednesday – nothing really came on [the first day of free agency]. I was waiting around and I guess there were no substantial offers so on Thursday I was driving down the first fairway at my gold course and I got the call and that was the offer.”
Strome scored seven points (3g, 4a) in his first 20 games, but rebounded in a big way after November. New head coach Derek King seemed to connect with Strome more than prior administrations and gave the Canadian a big promotion to the first line in January with Jonathan Toews out. Strome skated with Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane on his wings. Instant chemistry was found with DeBrincat as the two were former teammates with the Erie Otters (OHL).
Strome had 40 points (19g, 22a) in his next 49 games, registering the first two hat tricks of his NHL career on Jan. 26 vs. Detroit and March 8 vs. Anaheim.
By season’s end, Strome registered a career-high in goals (22) and scored the second-most points of his career (48). He won 52.3 percent of his faceoffs (full-season high) and shot a career-high 17.5 percent. Strome was named the team’s Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy nominee for how he carried himself during those trying times.
“When you have a good support system at home and have good guys on the team, the outside noise is noise,” Strome said. “I feel like, there could have been a lot of distractions. Getting asked about it so much worry you kind of put it in the back of your mind and not about it too much. Obviously, it was not fun when you’re in and out of the lineup. I felt like my game is going in a really good place at the end of last year, last three quarters of last year. I want to build on that in Washington.”
Blackhawks head coach Derek King suggested in mid-April that Strome did not do enough away from the puck to make himself an effective player.
“I think earlier on in the season he wasn’t working hard enough to get the puck back or put himself in a position to be creative and now he is,” King said.
“I felt like I was letting people down,” Strome said.
Strome was considered one of the Blackhawks’ biggest success stories during a miserable season that saw them finish second to last in the Central Division. Heading into the offseason, Strome was unsure what the Blackhawks’ next move would be.
“I think there were some rumblings throughout the year that [I could be non-tendered], that could be a possibility,” Strome said. “I feel I played my way into a qualifying offer but with the way the Blackhawks are trending and what they are looking to do in the next coming years, I’m not going to say I was surprised at the decision, but that’s a decision they made. Nothing I can do about that now.
“[A]t the end of the day, I’m really excited to join such a great organization and a team that is in the playoffs almost every year,” he continued. “To have that new opportunity and that new challenge is something that every player looks forward to and is excited about. It gives me real drive this summer to be at my best going into the season and show what I can do, show that they made a good choice signing me.”