UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- With each passing day, forward Ryan Strome knows he's inching closer to realizing his dream of playing in the NHL.
Selected in the first round (No. 5) by the New York Islanders at the 2011 NHL Draft, Strome is coming off another successful season with the Niagara Ice Dogs of the Ontario Hockey League, when he had 34 goals, 60 assists and a plus-43 rating in 53 games. He had six points (four goals, two assists) in six games for Canada at the 2013 World Junior Championship.
Strome, who turns 20 Thursday, turned pro at the end of his fourth junior season when he joined the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League in April. Though Bridgeport fell short in its bid to qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs, Strome had seven points (two goals, five assists) in 10 games. The adjustment went as smoothly as possible.
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"Honestly, it wasn't too bad as I thought," Strome told NHL.com Tuesday when the Islanders opened their prospect minicamp at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. "Playing in juniors is a lot like pro hockey -- the style and the lifestyle. I think that's one of the easiest adjustments. I was playing every day, almost. It wasn't too hard. Living on my own was a little bit different, and the guys are bigger and stronger, but overall I think I adapted pretty well."
When the Islanders open training camp in September, they will provide Strome with every opportunity to make their team. Unlike the previous two years, Strome knows he won't be going back to Niagara. Should he fail to make the Islanders, he will be sent to Bridgeport, where he'll likely play on the top line.
"I think it's different because this year I know I can't go back to juniors -- it's either pro in the NHL or the AHL," Strome said. "It'll be a different scenario. I think it's a great opportunity that I know I'm going to be down here, one way or another. I'm looking forward to getting my pro career full-time started."
Like most players when they're drafted, size is one of the biggest issues. Listed at 6-foot-1, 188 pounds, Strome appears to have added some bulk to his frame. He's excited by how things have gone over the past year and is ready to turn some heads this fall.
"I think I'm just bigger, stronger, more mature," Strome said. "I think I feel better all around. I'm definitely a lot bigger and I feel a bit more comfortable, so when you add those things together, you feel a lot better on the ice. Overall, I think my game's leaps and bounds better."
Strome's natural position was center when the Islanders drafted him, but they played him at right wing for the majority of his time in Bridgeport. Though he's unsure what the future holds, Strome has told Islanders general manager Garth Snow and coach Jack Capuano he's fine with either position.
"They asked me if I'm comfortable at both," Strome said. "I played 8-10 games at Bridgeport on the wing, and that definitely makes you comfortable. I think I can feel comfortable at each position, which is good. I think the more versatile you are, the more useful you can be."
Capuano said he's considering moving Strome to the wing.
"We've talked a little bit about it," Capuano said. "I talked to Ryan in the exit meetings after the Pittsburgh [playoff] series before he left, and it's something he's pretty comfortable with. But as we move on and see what our depth chart looks like … going into training camp in September, it's a real good possibility that we'll try him there."
That's fine with Strome.
"It sounds corny, but when I was in the AHL playing wing, it was a good opportunity to play on one of the top lines. It was a great opportunity. It doesn't matter where you're playing, you just want to play. Wing or center, it doesn't matter."
-- Islanders forward Ryan Strome
"I just want to help out the team," Strome said. "It sounds corny, but when I was in the AHL playing wing, it was a good opportunity to play on one of the top lines. It was a great opportunity. It doesn't matter where you're playing, you just want to play. Wing or center, it doesn't matter."
One has to believe that should the Islanders decide to have Strome on the NHL roster, it would be as a top-six forward where he can maximize his potential. Though the Islanders signed skilled forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard on July 5, there will be an open competition in training camp for the No. 1 right wing alongside Matt Moulson and Hart Trophy finalist John Tavares.
"I think it's up for grabs," Capuano said. "Obviously with Bouchard now coming in, a very skilled guy, a little different than [PA] Parenteau and Brad Boyes was there, but there's still a lot of options. I think Garth is still thinking of a few different things, so it's tough for me to say that right now. But I like the depth of our team and the way that we're moving forward. We've got good, young guys, good character guys. We want to be a team that plays fast, so I don't mind the youth part of it. We're looking forward to training camp in September, for sure."
There's little doubt Strome thought about skating alongside Tavares when he was drafted by the Islanders. Three months from now, he may very well receive that opportunity. He also knows nothing will be handed to him.
"That would be great," Strome said. "I want to play in the NHL with the Islanders and I want to help the team win. If that's the situation I'm put in, I'll definitely do my best to produce. But at the same time, I don't expect anything. I expect to earn everything I have.
"It's not every day a 20- or 19-year-old gets on the top line. It's day-by-day, it's a work in progress. I try to work hard wherever they put me."