Dylan Strome never felt all that comfortable as a member of the Coyotes organization. It didn't take the center long after arriving via a trade last November to relax and settle in with the Blackhawks thanks to a conversation with Vice President of Team Operations Tony Ommen on Strome's first full day in town.
"He told me to go look for a house," Strome said following Day 2 of Blackhawks Training Camp Saturday. "That's something I never had in Arizona. I never got a housing letter so everything was kind of up in the air and I was always wondering if I was going to be sent down.
"I was like, 'Are you sure I should look for a place?' and Tony said, 'Yeah, you have a week to find one,'" said Strome, who spent his first night in town at teammate Alex DeBrincat's house.
For a player who couldn't consistently carve out a spot in the Coyotes' lineup after they drafted him with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, being told to secure a home was a huge confidence builder.
"It might not mean a lot to them, but it meant a lot to me," Strome, 22, said. "It means you're probably not going to be sent down for a while, at least. Things like that I didn't have (in Arizona) and when I got here it was a luxury of having that right away and feeling comfortable and feeling like I belong."
The comfortable feeling paid huge dividends on the ice as Strome was immediately paired with DeBrincat and Patrick Kane and went on to record a career-high 20 goals and 37 assists, including 17 goals and 34 helpers in 58 games with the Blackhawks.
That run with the Blackhawks was a sharp contrast to Strome's time in Arizona, where he had seven goals and nine assists in 48 games over parts of three seasons.
"My confidence was low when I was there, no question about that," Strome said. "Sometimes you just lose the confidence and you don't have the touch with the puck. I felt like I would go down to the AHL and score four points a game … and have a great time and then I'd get up to the NHL and it was like I couldn't do anything. It was frustrating when I'd go out there the whole time I was there."
Strome eventually got word that he had been traded along with Brendan Perlini to the Blackhawks in exchange for Nick Schmaltz.
"Obviously, I wanted to produce and wanted to help the team that drafted me but at the same time they felt like it was best to trade me," Strome said. "I felt like (the Blackhawks) wanted me and put me in a position to succeed. When you get that chance you have run with it and I'm still trying to do that."
To that end, Strome has identified a major area of improvement: his defensive play. A skilled playmaker and scorer at each level of his career, his difficulty in the defensive zone has been his one drawback.
"Obviously, I like to score goals and create plays but I think I have to do a better job of eliminating chances when I'm on the ice," he said "It's just paying more attention to the little details when you're on the d-side of the puck. Not every shift you have to try to create something offensively. If you're stuck in the d-zone just worry about getting it out. Go play that good 30-40 seconds in there and make something happen the next shift. If you do that you get the coach's confidence a little bit more and then you'll be able to get a few more shifts here and there."
Video: Strome on first TCF
For a player who once piled up 129 points on 45 goals and 84 assists in 68 games with the Erie Otters of the OHL in 2014-15, finding that balance between remaining dangerous offensively while being responsible in his own zone has been difficult.
"It's hard," Strome said. "That's something I've not really focused on too much. I was more just cheating too much and trying to get chances. I think you still have to cheat and find ways to create offense because this is a hard league; it's hard to beat guys one on one so anytime you can get a jump on the play, you do. I feel like I'm pretty good at reading the play and try to jump but you don't want to be blowing the zone every time. The coach is going to want to put you out there if you can play good defense and know when to pick your spots."
Strome doesn't have to look too hard to find an example of the type of player he yearns to be. Teammate Jonathan Toews' two-way game sets a standard that Strome would like to reach.
"'Tazer' might not be a 100-point guy every year but there aren't too many guys who like to play against him," Strome said. "If you can get that trait along with your game, that's pretty impressive. There are maybe four or five guys in the league and he's one of them that do it really well - scoring a bunch of goals and points and are good defensively and kill penalties. You want to strive to be one of those guys and strive to be a guy that the coach can trust and have confidence in. It's not easy to do so I have to work on it."
So how often does Strome take notice of Toews' game?
"I watch him all the time," Strome said. "It's just the way he doesn't cheat on the defensive side. He can get up in the play quickly but at the same time he takes chances too. He's got a good stick. He's reliable. There are things to learn, things to always pick up on. He's obviously been doing it for a long time so it's good to watch."
Coming off his strong stint with the Blackhawks last season, Strome is hoping to reach another level to his game in '19-20.
"I want to be a guy who goes to the right areas, knows who I'm on the ice with, knows what time of the game it is (and) knows when to take a chance," he said. "It's going to be a good year."