Strome worth a deeper look than highlight-reel goal
The biggest number for Ryan Strome this season might not be the goals, assists or points he scores for the Ontario Hockey League's Niagara IceDogs, or where he lands in NHL Central Scouting's rankings for the 2011 Entry Draft -- all those numbers likely will be high, by the way.
No, for Strome, the biggest number will be the video starts for the spectacular goal he scored against the Plymouth Whalers Oct. 28.
Strome takes a pass from teammate Steven Shipley in the neutral zone, and he accelerates down the left side and across the Plymouth blue line. He fakes going inside on a Whalers defender and then blows around him to the outside and goes right to the net. When the goalie goes into his butterfly, Strome starts to go behind the net but instead uses his reach to tuck the puck behind the goalie, just inside the left post.
"It was quite a goal," Niagara coach/GM Marty Williamson told NHL.com. "It was kind of right in my sightlines on the bench. At first I didn't know what he was doing. He didn't have a lot of room. I thought he was going around the net, but that just shows you the imagination to make those kind of decisions quickly. That's not a planned play."
"I was sitting down on the bench," teammate Dougie Hamilton told NHL.com. "I thought it was a 1-on-2, and I didn't really expect anything to happen. I stood up as he went around the (defender) and when he tucked it in, we went nuts on the bench."
Since being posted, the video has been viewed nearly 310,000 times on YouTube, and more than 48,000 times on NHL.com.
"It's cool to see your goals on YouTube," Strome told NHL.com. "And NHL.com -- when I first heard that, I couldn't believe it. I thought someone was joking. That's pretty cool."
A lot Strome has done this season has been cool, starting with his 73 assists and 106 points, both the third-best totals in league as well as team highs. He also had 12 points in 14 playoff games as he helped Niagara reach the OHL East Conference Finals.
Strome also had 33 goals during the regular season, but according to Williamson, the memorable one against the Whalers might not have been his best this season, saying he thought the second goal Strome scored that night was just as good.
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The good times have been plentiful for Strome this season, and it comes in stark contrast to the experiences the 6-foot, 183-pound center went through last season as an OHL rookie. Strome was taken with the eighth pick of the 2009 OHL draft by the Barrie Colts, but on a stacked team that included current NHL players like Thrashers forward Alexander Burmistrov and Kings forward Kyle Clifford and went on to finish with an OHL-high 116 points, Strome languished on the third and fourth lines last season. It was an odd spot for a player who always had been a top scorer and he admittedly had a difficult time adjusting.
"It was really tough for me," said Strome. "Getting drafted pretty high in the first round, I was so excited to move to the OHL and to be honest I was a little surprised I was sitting on the bench and playing fourth-line minutes. It was a pretty hard thing to deal with."
Williamson held the same positions with Barrie last season, and he saw Strome's struggles first-hand.
"It was a difficult year," he said. "We were such a strong team. His ice time was limited. He was a young guy. It's about the opportunity. Barrie was a stacked team, we were No. 1 in the country. As a young guy he didn't get a lot of ice. We were built to win that year."
He had 5 goals and 14 points in 34 games with the Colts when he was dealt to Niagara in exchange for Alex Pietrangelo. The move gave Strome the chance at more ice time, especially on the power play, and he finished with 3 goals and 13 points in 27 games with the IceDogs.
"For him it turned out to be a good opportunity," said Williamson. "It was very difficult for me to trade him. I knew how good he could be. He just wasn't able to show it on the team we had there."
Strome spent the summer packing on the pounds to make himself stronger on the puck and in battles along the walls and in front of the net.
"I really dedicated my entire summer, with the help of my parents and trainers," said Strome. "I was eating everything I could, I was at the gym 4-5 days a week. I really wanted to dedicate my summer, do everything I possibly could in the summer, so no matter how things turned out, I can say I did everything I could to get ready for it. Looking back at it, all those extra reps and extra meals my dad told me to eat, it's paying off."
Williamson and the IceDogs have been reaping the benefits as well.
"The biggest difference with him is he got 10-15 pounds stronger and that was a huge difference," said Williamson. "Ryan is one of those guys that initiates contact and makes a great play. He plays in those traffic areas and he wins battles and then he makes great passes. He's got great vision. As weak as he was in his first year, it was difficult for him to play that kind of game. Now he's playing the game he played in midgets when he was a dominant midget player. He's very confident. He can go into traffic and know he's not going to get knocked on his rear end. He's confident, he feels good on the ice, and when you have skill a lot of confidence, good things happen."
Good things happened all season for Strome. Besides his on-ice success, he earned a coveted spot in January's CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, and he's No. 8 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters available for the 2011 Entry Draft.
"He skates very well and has very good speed," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "He's a creative playmaker who sees the ice very well. He goes to the net and battles in front. He is able to get to rebounds and loose pucks in front. He has good hands and has scored some goals off tip-ins in front."
While Strome wasn't scoring YouTube-worthy goals on a nightly basis, he didn't run from the pressure of being a bit of an Internet sensation -- or a highly regarded draft prospect.
"I like the pressure," Strome said earlier this season. "I play best under the pressure -- that's when I thrive. A player like myself, I live for those big games. I want people to be watching me, I want the spotlight on me."
He knows a lot of those people were scouts dissecting his every move and then deciding on his NHL future. Don't expect him to change, however.
"To have people watching every night, it's a lot of pressure and some added pressure to your game," he said. "You have to go out there and play the game. If you just play the way you're used to and the way you can, it'll take care of itself."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK