Not quite an overnight sensation, Dylan Strome will be watching when the Blackhawks select from the lofty third spot at Friday evening's National Hockey League Draft in Vancouver.
Strome, here in Chicago, shall not be asked to advise the next prodigy. But if he were, he would speak as a wizened soul belying his age, 22.
"I would tell him, whoever it is, that everyone has a different path," said Strome. "A pick that high, No. 3, obviously means you are a highly-valued player. People are expecting you to do a lot. There's pressure and attention, but it's a process."
Sometimes, it takes a change of scenery or system. Sometimes, it just takes time. For Strome, it required all of the above, along with several trips to the gas station before he became a fixture with the Blackhawks in late November last season.
As NHL franchises prepare for Vancouver, there is little mystery attached to the opening minutes. You can go to the kitchen for a cold one and rest assured that wonderkid Jack Hughes will be anointed as the next superstar of the New Jersey Devils, after which the New York Rangers will plant their jersey, perhaps dusty by now, on Kaapo Kakko. For the rest, the fun begins when the Blackhawks go on the clock at No. 3.
A center? A defenseman? Best teenager available? Trade down? Feel free to return from the fridge by then.
Video: On The Clock: Season 3, Ep. 2 - Scouting Search
In 2015, the prospect plot strongly resembled what exists now. Connor McDavid, a teammate of Strome's on a rather enriched Erie Otters squad in the Ontario Hockey League, was a given No. 1 to be snapped up by the Edmonton Oilers. Jack Eichel's status was a virtual slam-dunk at No. 2, and the Buffalo Sabres did not veer from quo.
"I was in Florida for the draft," Strome recalled. "Arizona had the No. 3 pick, but everything was a bit up in the air. I had no idea where I was going. There was talk that the Coyotes might deal it for a defenseman. But then the word came that they would keep the No. 3. I thought it might be me."
It was. However, Strome's presumptive journey on the fast lane did not materialize. Rather, his was a convoluted journey of pit stops, traffic circles and varying zip codes. He signed a three-year entry contract, and went to camp with the Coyotes, who returned him to Erie for maturation - not an uncommon scenario.
"I thought I had a decent camp, but they thought I was still too young," he said. "Then the next year, I went to camp and didn't do that well. For whatever reason, I wasn't playing as well as I could."
Strome saw a lot of the desert, basically "living in my car," as he endured serial transfers between the Coyotes and their American Hockey League affiliate, the Tucson Roadrunners. It just wasn't happening for him, until he was dealt to the Blackhawks along with Brendan Perlini for Nick Schmaltz. In the middle of winter, Chicago people crave a plane ticket to Arizona. Strome went the other way, packing promise and an overcoat.
"I was nervous, and excited," he said. "I wasn't playing a lot of minutes in Arizona, but here I was, joining a great Original Six organization with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who had won three Stanley Cups. Plus, I was back with one of my best buddies, Alex DeBrincat, who I played with in Erie. I want to say I was traded on a Sunday and on Tuesday, I'm right in the lineup. It all worked out."
Strome recorded 17 goals and 34 assists with the Blackhawks in 51 games. It felt like old times. In his draft year, Strome was vying for the OHL scoring championship with Mitch Marner, who would be selected No. 4 by the Toronto Maple Leafs. McDavid sat out the final evening, but scouts and TV crews did not leave disappointed. Strome exploded for six points to complete a dazzling resume: 45 goals and 129 points in 68 games. Marner finished second with 126 points, McDavid third with 120.
"I've always wanted to be an impact player," said Strome. "It didn't work out in Arizona. A lot goes through your mind when things aren't going well. I tried to stay positive. Then I got a fresh start in Chicago. Crazy how things turn out."
Video: Strome volunteers with ServICE Crew
While a junior, the dossier on Strome cautioned that, despite manifest skills at center, he was only an average skater. Too slow. The same label was attached to John Tavares. How does that look now? Funny how those yellow flags disappear when you fill the net. The book on Denis Savard was "too small." A No. 3, he's in the Hall of Fame. Crazy indeed.
Strome is spending the summer, such as it is, in Chicago. He works out with Toews, DeBrincat and Connor Murphy under the auspices of Paul Goodman, the Blackhawks' venerable strength and conditioning coach. When it doesn't rain, Strome goes to ballgames with the guys or plays golf. Maybe it would have been even easier if he had joined the Blackhawks during the offseason, all the better to adjust. But it's not supposed to be easy, even when you're a No. 3. Sometimes, it takes a while. Sometimes, you have to live out of your car before you can park it, having found your place.