GLENDALE -- A year after nearly winning it, Dylan Strome is heading back to the Memorial Cup this week as a fan.
Strome, fresh off his first pro season, is traveling to Regina, Saskatchewan to watch his younger brother Matthew compete for the Hamilton Bulldogs at junior hockey's premiere event.
Strome is resting and recovering after playing 80 games this season, including 21 for the Coyotes over three segments: he played two games at the start of the season, nine in the middle and 10 at the end. That final stint with the team was his most productive - three goals, five assists - and it has him and team management excited about his future.
"I was just trying to play better each time I got called up," Strome said. "When I got called back up the last time, I was really ready and excited for the opportunity, and I tried to make the most of it. I thought it went really well. I just wanted to prove to everyone that I could play at that level. There were only 10 games left in the season when I got called up that last time and I figured I would be there for the duration. So, I tried to play every game like it was my last. I went out there and was comfortable, and the team was doing much better. That helped a lot. Obviously, it's a lot better environment when the team is expecting to win and everyone is playing with confidence and everyone is feeling good about their games. It's just easier to play in that type of environment. We were 5-4-1 in our last 10 games, so it was a lot of fun to play in that."
Strome, the third overall pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, has been watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs and feels the Coyotes are not far from becoming a playoff team.
"I think we're very close," Strome said. "At the end of the season we handled some of the teams that have gotten far into the playoffs, including Tampa Bay and Vegas. It was encouraging."
General Manager John Chayka is expecting Strome to establish himself as an NHL player next season.
"I spoke to Dylan and told him we have high expectations for him," Chayka said. "We've made him earn things, and playing a top-six center position as a 20-year-old is a very hard thing to do. I think in his latest segment where he came up and played, I thought he showed a lot of improvement. I thought he proved a lot to himself and his teammates that he can handle that type of role and be productive. He's been productive his whole life. It's always good to see progression, and I think we've seen that with Dylan."
Video: Looking Back at Strome's Season
Strome said playing 59 games in the American Hockey League this season served him well. He was an AHL All-Star and led the Tucson Roadrunners with 53 points (22 goals, 31 assists) in 50 regular-season games. He also was one of Tucson's top point producers (eight) in its nine Calder Cup Playoffs games.
"That was my first taste of pro playoff hockey and I think any time you can get playoff experience, that's huge," Strome said. "It was intense. The games were fast-paced with a lot of hitting, and guys definitely wanted to win, and it was fun to be a part of. It will definitely help me moving forward."
Tucson advanced to the AHL's Pacific Division championship series but lost to Texas, four games to one.
"Honestly, I thought we outplayed them," Strome said. "They had a hot goalie (Mike McKenna). He was unbelievable. For whatever reason, we just couldn't score on him and he stole a couple games for them. They had some older guys, too, and it was a tough series. They are a great team, as you can see; they're now up 2-0 in the conference finals. So, all in all, I thought it was a pretty good playoff run for us."
Strome soon will turn his full attention to getting ready for next season. His goal is to get stronger and faster as he trains on-ice and off-ice with other NHLers with Team BioSteel in Toronto.
"They really push you to be your best and they work you really hard," Strome said. "I think it's a really great place to go. The plan is to work out hard in the gym, and kind of refine my skills a little bit, and get ready for training camp. I want to make the NHL out of camp and play there the whole year, and you have to have a good summer in order to do that."
Training will wait until after Strome's trip to the Memorial Cup. He plans to arrive on Thursday in time to watch the tournament's decisive games. A year ago, he and the Erie Otters reached the championship game but lost to host Windsor.
Strome said his advice to brother Matthew is simple: "I told him it's a long tournament so you can't let one loss bother you too much and you've got to move on to the next one because every game means so much."
He added: "It's such a great tournament. There's a lot of high-end talent there and a lot of cameras and a lot of media attention that some of these junior kids haven't really seen before. It's a huge stage for them and the whole country is watching. I told him to enjoy that."