ANAHEIM — At the beginning of the season, Dylan Strome's name popped up in the rumor mill after he was healthy scratched six times through the first eight games. It was believed Chicago's previous management group was looking to trade him, but nothing ever materialized because of the limited market.
When Derek King took over as the interim head coach on Nov. 6, things didn't immediately change for Strome but he did get a new lease on life. The ultimate goal: King wanted to trust Strome, and Strome needed to put his trust in King. That relationship has grown over time, and that trust factor is at an all-time high right now.
Since the calendar flipped to 2022, Strome has 28 points (14 goals, 14 assists) in 30 games. That's a point-per-game average of 0.93, which trails only Alex DeBrincat (1.00) and Patrick Kane (1.39) on the Blackhawks over that stretch.
Strome is also averaging 17:44 of ice time during that span after averaging only 14:07 in his previous 20 games. For reference, his career time-on-ice average per game is 15:41.
Strome is playing some of the best hockey of his NHL career, and he's doing so at a great time. He's a pending restricted free agent at the end of the season with arbitration rights, and he's strengthening his case by the day if it ever gets to that point.
The question is whether Strome is playing his way into being a potential long-term piece for the Blackhawks or making a strong impression for other teams around the league. The NHL trade deadline passed on Monday and he remained a member of the Blackhawks, but his future still remains unclear.
"I'm not sure what's going to happen," Strome said. "We'll see what happens. Obviously this is a little different negotiation than last time with arbitration. Something I've never been through before, so obviously there's a set deadline compared to two years ago, I guess now. Feels like a long time ago. I think it's a little easier in that sense.
"Sometimes guys go right up to the camp date or the camp line and just don't have a deal. It happens almost every year to a few guys. I think it's nicer when you have a date and you know I've got to get something done by a certain time. And then if not, I guess that's when the arbitration kicks in."
Strome concluded those comments with the realization that it's not something he has to worry about right now, because "it's so far away." But there's definitely a motivation for him in the final 19 games to continue producing at a high rate to prove he can sustain this kind of success over the course of a longer period.
"He just has to continue to build on his game," King said. "Work hard when he doesn't have the puck. I've had numerous conversations with him. Everybody loves Chicago. You talk to anybody on the team, especially me coming in here. I like Rockford. It's not the greatest place, but I like it.
"So you come here and you talk to these guys like, 'Hey, what happens if you get moved or what do you want to do next year?' Everybody wants to be back here because they love the city, they love the fans, they love everything about it, and those Original Six teams kind of draw a lot of guys. So we'll see, if Stromer finishes the way he keeps going the way he's going, they might want to sign him back."
For Strome, his focus is on hockey and the current task at hand. The rest will take care of itself. Yes, he would love to stay in Chicago, but at this point, you have to wonder if he just wants to play for a team where he's wanted and believes in him as a player, because his name has seemingly been out there for years now.
So while he doesn't have to worry about any distractions as far as the trade deadline goes, that doesn't necessarily mean he can breathe again, although he didn't seem too stressed about it on Tuesday. It's more of an exhale, for now.
"I guess not until the end of the year, right?" Strome said. "I don't know how that works. We'll see what happens. Like I said, just put it in the back of your mind and go play some hockey and have fun these last 19 games and sit together as a team and see what happens."
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