TORONTO (AP) – Dylan Strome didn’t plan to be here.
Team Canada’s captain at the world junior hockey championship imagined he’d be playing for the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes right now. But just over a month ago, after spot duty with the club that drafted him third overall in 2015, Strome was sent back to the Ontario Hockey League.
The 19-year-old, who said he felt “done with junior hockey” in July, was suddenly back.
“It’s something that I’ve obviously never really done before,” Strome said about having to return to the Erie Otters for a fourth season. “It’s kind of just weird coming back to a situation that I’ve been in for three years. It’s not really weird, but at the same time it is just because you haven’t been there.”
Arizona opted to return Strome to Erie on Nov. 20 after he was made a healthy scratch for the 10th time. His inclusion in coach Dave Tippett’s lineup was sporadic. He played in only seven games in just over a month with the Coyotes, registering a single assist. It was the kind of thing Strome, always among the best players on his teams growing up, had never experienced.
Suddenly he wasn’t an automatic for the first or second line or a shoo-in to run the power play. Strome detailed the lesson of the experience with great detail.
“You’ve got to live every day like it’s going to be your last one there,” he said. “You’ve got to work hard. Nothing’s given to you. You don’t know when you’re going to be in the lineup. You don’t know when you’re not going to be in the lineup. You go to the rink every day hoping your name’s on the board and if it’s not you’ve got to work extra hard to get there.”
Strome said he gained newfound respect for those players who struggle to get into the lineup on a regular basis, whether in the NHL or junior. He got a genuine sense of what it’s like to show up at the rink every day and not know whether you were playing or not, an uncertain feeling indeed.
Strome had six points in five games for Canada’s disappointing sixth-place finish last year in Finland. Unlike then, when he was tearing up the OHL upon joining Team Canada, Strome says he’s still trying to reach high gear after the wobbly NHL experience.
Strome posted 16 points in seven games with Erie upon returning from Arizona and will try to make a similar dent for the Canadians, shut out of the medal conversation in three of the past four world junior tournaments. The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder is pegged to center the No. 1 line, joining Mitchell Stephens and Pierre-Luc Dubois, the No. 3 overall pick in 2016 by Columbus.
Beyond just national pride and restoring order to a Canadian program that racked up five straight golds at one point last decade, Strome has the added motivation of injecting some light onto a season that’s not gone as he would have liked.
The Coyotes will be watching too and though seven games won’t make a season “obviously this tournament means a lot.”
“It’s against better competition than junior and they want to see what you got,” Strome said.
Canada opens pool play on Monday night in Toronto against Russia. The United States will face Latvia on Monday, also in Toronto.
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