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Dylan Strome wants in early, but Coyotes won't rush

by Jerry Brown

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Dylan Strome took the ice at Arizona Coyotes development camp last week with the fanfare that would be expected for the third pick of the 2015 NHL Draft.

But the buzz was muted by the expectation that Strome is a long-term investment, unlike Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the top two picks of the draft.

Coyotes general manager Don Maloney and coach Dave Tippett expect Strome to strengthen his skating and continue to build on his 6-foot-3 frame.

They would also like him to gain the experience of being the focal point of the Ontario Hockey League's Erie Otters, replacing McDavid, who the Edmonton Oilers drafted with the No. 1 pick, and to play a big role with the Canada National Junior Team.

The Coyotes drafted Dylan Strome with the third pick at the 2015 NHL Draft. (Photo: Getty Images)

"He's proven he was a dynamic player in junior, but he's still a young player," Tippett said. "He's a big part of the future for us. The biggest change to the NHL is size and speed. He's got good size, but the tempo the game is played at is something he's got to adjust to."

Strome expects to be a big part of the Coyotes' future. He's just not ready to give up on that future beginning as soon as possible; he wants to prove that McDavid and Eichel, who went to the Buffalo Sabres at No. 2, weren't the only NHL-ready players in this year's draft.

Seeing several open spots in the Arizona lineup and brimming with the confidence that comes from leading the OHL with 129 points, Strome isn't convinced he won't play with the Coyotes when they open this season at the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 9.

"If they send me back, that's the way it goes and I will work as hard as I can to have the best year possible in Erie," Strome said. "But I'm going to do my best to stay here, make this team and help them win. I want to come to camp feeling like I'm going to stay here and play here."

Strome doesn't have to look beyond his family photo to find an example for the virtues of patience. His older brother, Ryan, played two seasons in junior and spent parts of two seasons in the American Hockey League after the New York Islanders drafted him with the fifth pick in 2011; he had 17 goals and 50 points in 2014-15, his first full NHL season.

Dylan feels he is more ready for the NHL than his older brother was at the same age.

"I'm a little more physically mature than Ryan was when he was drafted," Strome said. "Everyone has things that they need to work on. There's no perfect hockey player out there. Someone's always going to be saying something about you. You need to listen to the people that actually matter – coaches, the general managers – and work on what they tell you."

Born and raised in Mississauga, Ontario, the three Strome brothers – the youngest, Matthew, was drafted eighth in the OHL Priority Selection in April – were either watching Toronto Maple Leafs games or going at it themselves outside on the ice or in the basement with mini-sticks.

"It's all we did. Even at school we would play mini-sticks at recess," Strome said. "When we got home, I would strap on the pads and Matt and Ryan would shoot on me. We always had a stick in our hand and we were always in the basement, getting into fights and having Mom yell at us.

"Now, we are always calling and supporting each other during the season, and there isn't much sibling rivalry. We got it all out of our system early, I guess."

With Toronto picking at No. 4, Maple Leafs fans were hoping the hometown kid might slip to them. But the Coyotes passed on several trade offers in the final hours and chose Strome.

"It would have been a lot of pressure to go to Toronto," Strome said. "It would have been so cool to wear the Leaf, but I think I'm in a great situation in Arizona and I was happier than anyone else in the world when it happened.

"I really wanted to come here. That was my gut feeling that was what was going to happen. I was really hoping for that and when it came true, it was unbelievable."

That response is comforting for the Coyotes, who haven't had much luck with top-five draft picks.

In 2005, Wayne Gretzky pushed hard for Minnesota high-school star Blake Wheeler at No. 5. Wheeler refused to sign a contract, opted for free agency and never wore a Coyotes uniform.

In 2007, they selected Kyle Turris with the third pick. Turris clashed with Tippett and wanted out of Arizona from almost the beginning, demanding a trade that finally happened in 2011.

But Strome is happy in the desert and eager to stand on his own after a season with a front-row seat to all the hype surrounding McDavid.

The Otters were the hottest ticket in the OHL; they had security personnel traveling with the team, a rarity in junior hockey. But when McDavid missed nearly two months because of a broken hand and to play for Canada at the IIHF World Junior Championship, Strome stepped into a leadership role and Erie kept rolling.

"For me, that's when Dylan's game took off," Maloney said. "I saw him two or three times during that period, and he was ringing up four or five points a night. That's when you really start to get excited."

Arizona is excited by the influx of young offensive-minded forwards it has stockpiled through the draft and trades. Rookies Max Domi and Anthony Duclair are expected to make the opening-night roster, and prospects like Brendan Perlini and Christian Dvorak have a chance to join them.

Strome sees a door open for himself as well, but he will have to force his way in.

"I know it's hard for these top guys to go back to junior. But the next step for Dylan is to make that World Junior team and be a leader," Maloney said. "You look at Max Domi two years ago (and) the player he is now, and there is no comparison.

"There just hasn't been a lot of time for [Strome] to do just the general strength development that he's going to need to play at this level. To me, it's about how much he pushes himself in the next little while to make this team. You hope he grabs hold of an opportunity, but another year of development wouldn't be bad either."

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