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Erie's Strome used time in spotlight to emerge as star

by Adam Kimelman

Erie Otters forward Dylan Strome experienced something similar to what NHL legends Mark Messier and Jaromir Jagr went through early in their careers.

Messier was the co-pilot to Wayne Gretzky with the Edmonton Oilers during their championship run in the 1980s; Jagr was a linemate to Mario Lemieux on the Pittsburgh Penguins' Stanley Cup teams in the 1990s.

Strome was the second-line center to Connor McDavid in Erie this season. But like Messier and Jagr, Strome was able to steal some of the spotlight and emerge as a star.

The 6-foot-3, 185-pound center led the Ontario Hockey League with 129 points and was third with 45 goals. He clinched the scoring title on the final day of the regular season with four goals and two assists against the Niagara IceDogs.

He's No. 4 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2015 NHL Draft.

"He has that competitive edge and grittiness; he wants to succeed, wants the puck, wants to score and wants to win," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "He's a skilled, driven player, a strong skater with the agility and reach that scouts love."

Strome was the first player to lead the OHL in scoring in his draft year since Tyler Seguin in 2009-10. But McDavid, who some scouts called the best NHL draft prospect since Sidney Crosby in 2005, drew the majority of the attention.

"Of course you get overshadowed," Strome said. "He's the best player in the world for a reason at this age. Or a lot of ages. You can learn so much [but] I don't feel like I was in his shadow."

Strome and McDavid were part of Erie's top power play, but for the most part Strome centered his own line, and developed into a top NHL draft prospect because of it.

"I think from last year as a young player, he didn't have as many responsibilities," Erie coach Kris Knoblauch said. "With the absence and graduation of Connor Brown, [Brendan] Gaunce, Dane Fox, and numerous other guys, we needed guys stepping up. When the player, in their mind, if they see themselves as secondary player, then they are a secondary player. When they want to be part of the team and a big contributor, then they usually step up and are those guys. I think over the summer he was ready to start the season to be one of the guys."

Strome proved he could be one of those guys during McDavid's eight-week absence because of a broken hand and time with Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. In the 20 games McDavid missed, Strome had 14 goals and 29 points; he had at least one point in 17 of the 20 games.

"It was a time to show people that I'm not just getting points because I'm playing with him or I'm only doing good things because I'm with him," Strome said. "He's the best player in the world, so there are benefits to playing with him. But it was a good chance for myself to show what I could do without him. I think I fared pretty well and the team did well. So I was pretty happy with it."

Knoblauch said he wasn't sure how Strome would handle facing the opposition's best defensemen and top checking line every night. But with seven goals and 12 points in the first seven games after McDavid was hurt, he allayed Knoblauch's concern.

"He was ready to rise to the occasion," Knoblauch said. "He knew it would be more difficult. I didn't want him to get too discouraged because there was the possibility of him drawing more attention, the top defensemen, the shutdown line, and his scoring going down. But his 5-on-5 play, his scoring went up. His power-play production went down a little bit because without Connor being there that affected him a little bit. For his overall game we saw him step up."

McDavid said he didn't need Strome stepping into a prime role to know his teammate was a special player.

"He's unbelievable. His hockey IQ is off the charts," McDavid said. "What he's able to do in terms of finding people with the puck and making great passes, it's so fun to watch. I oftentimes find myself just kind of watching him when I'm on the bench. A guy like that you can always learn some stuff off of."

Strome learned from McDavid but also from his older brother, New York Islanders forward Ryan Strome.

"We're pretty close with everything," Dylan said. "Whenever we need something we'd talk to each other. … He helped me out through the year when I needed something."

Ryan Strome, the fifth pick of the 2011 draft, played his final season in the OHL in 2012-13, one season before Dylan debuted with Erie. Like with McDavid, Dylan has shown he's more than "Ryan's little brother."

But rather than allow himself to be overshadowed by others, Dylan said he's appreciated having a successful older brother and a famous teammate.

"It's only helped me," Dylan said. "I don't know what would happen if I didn't have a brother or wasn't on the same team as Connor. There's lots of things that could have happened but didn't happen. Those things didn't happen but it's worked out pretty well."


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