Strome, the fifth pick at the 2011 Entry Draft, was returned by the New York Islanders to the Niagara Ice Dogs on Thursday morning. Strome said goodbye to teammates at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, addressed the media and headed straight for the airport.
"They told me they wanted to keep me here for some experience," said Strome, who had 33 goals and 73 assists in 65 games for Niagara last season, his first full junior campaign. "I did that. I know it's been a week now and I think I've learned a lot. I'm just happy I got the opportunity to be around the team during the regular season and see what it's like. They wanted to me to get a good taste of things, and I think I did that."
"If you look at Johnny, he's one of the most skilled guys in the League," Strome said. "He puts himself in good scoring positions and he goes to the net hard. Just the areas of the ice he goes to and the things he works on in practice are two things they really want me to work on. I've got a lot to work on, but I think being up here I got a good taste of things. I'm prepared for going back and getting better."
Tavares, the No. 1 selection at the 2009 Entry Draft, was expected to make the Islanders right out of training camp that year and did just that, tallying 24 goals and 30 assists in 82 games. While Strome is also an extremely gifted offensive player, Tavares believes the 18-year-old will benefit from not only playing another season of junior hockey, but also potentially representing Canada at the upcoming World Junior tournament.
"Obviously, he would have loved to been up here, but I think he understands that it's good for his development," Tavares said. "He's excited to get back in some games and he's a big part of that team down there. We hung out a little bit last night, and he's in good spirits. It's going to be good for him. He learned a lot up here and he had a great time. Guys really got to know him and really like him, so I'm happy for him."
Tavares played for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships on two occasions and was the tournament's Most Valuable Player in 2009, when he tallied 15 points (8 goals, 7 assists) in just six games. He believes it would be an invaluable experience for Strome, should he make the squad.
"I know for me, it's just such a high quality of hockey," Tavares said. "It's as close as you're going to get to playing pro hockey. I remember just the pace, the intensity, the pressure, the scrutiny there is in that tournament … it's something he'll learn how to deal with. You make big leaps from that tournament, I find, and you learn what it takes to get your game from that level to the next level."
"That will obviously be a huge goal of mine," Strome said of making the World Junior squad. "I kind of look forward to the opportunity, but first and foremost, I want to try to get Niagara back on track a little bit. The pieces are there, but we're just struggling a little bit right now. Hopefully we'll start to turn things around now."
"I just think right now with the numbers that we have, it's best that he goes back and he plays … that's the most important thing -- to play as much hockey as he can," Capuano said. "It was real good for him. He had a great rookie camp and a great NHL camp for us. He learned a great deal. I had a great conversation with him this morning. He was very thankful and he realizes that the experience that he needs right now is to play."
"Another year of junior is definitely not going to hurt anyone," Strome said. "Now that I've been through all the rookie camps, the development camp, the main camp, I think I'm going to come in next year not having to learn as much. I'm looking forward to the opportunity and I'm thankful for the opportunity I've gotten here."
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