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Coyotes’ Dylan Strome hopes third training camp is a charm

Erie Otters center Dylan Strome poses with the MVP trophy following the Otters' loss to the Windsor Spitfires in the Memorial Cup final hockey game in Windsor, Ontario, Sunday, May 28, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dylan Strome is still feeling butterflies in his third NHL rookie camp.

“You’re not normal if you don’t feel a little nervous and anxious to try to make the NHL,” Strome said Thursday after his first rookie camp practice. “I’m trying to live a childhood dream here.”

A lot of Coyotes fans harbor a similar dream for Strome. With training camp opening next week, Strome and Clayton Keller will carry greater expectations than any other Arizona rookies because so much is expected of them as high first-round draft picks — Strome at No. 3 in 2015 and Keller at No. 7 in 2016.

Enter new coach Rick Tocchet with a fast-paced playing style that promises to favor their talents and a personal approach that seeks to diffuse the burden of expectations.

“I don’t want to put pressure on those guys,” Tocchet said. “They don’t have to, every second they’re on the ice, try to impress everybody. They’ve just got to play.”

Strome was parroting that just-play mantra when he spoke to media on Thursday at Gila River Arena, but with two camps under his belt, the sting of disappointment still fresh in his memory from being sent back to juniors both of those seasons, and with the knowledge that there is no more he can accomplish in juniors, Strome understands what an important camp this is for him.

“I felt like the past two years I’ve had great camps and then come the seventh preseason game, you have a little slip up in a game,” he said. “My first year, I got sent back and I felt like that was one of the main reasons. Last year, I felt like I didn’t start the regular season because of it.

“[Former coach] Dave Tippett told me last year that I was good enough to play in the NHL but I wasn’t good enough to play every day yet. It was about working to get a little better and a little stronger in practice.”

So Strome spent much of the summer in Arizona working on his skills, working on his oft discussed skating with Coyotes skating coach Dawn Braid, and adding about five pounds of strength.

“You can notice it when you’re jumping or when you’re doing different things,” he said. “It’s encouraging. I feel a lot stronger on the ice. I don’t feel as lanky as I did last year. When I’m on the ice I don’t feel as wobbly.”

Almost every Coyotes player has had sessions with Braid, and some, like defensive prospect Kyle Wood, dedicated a huge portion of their summers to that one-on-one instruction.

But Strome is Braid’s special case. He carries greater hopes because of his draft status and his position.

Strome was thrilled when the Coyotes hired Braid full-time last summer.

“It was nice to have that familiarity,” Strome said. “She knows what I’m capable of. She believes in me. It’s nice to have that positive encouragement when I’m on the ice. She’s very constructive; one of the best in the business, if not the best in the business.”

The two watched lots of film of Strome’s stride this summer. They worked on feeling comfortable on his edges, leg position, arm position and improving his forward stride by extending his legs.

“She always stresses to me to get lower,” Strome said, smiling. “I think she’s probably said that to me about 100 times this summer: ‘get lower.’

“You become a worse skater when you get fatigued so we did a couple hard laps and then she filmed. It’s about stamina and stability and your core strength to be able to skate well when you’re tired. That’s when your bad stride comes out. We tried to do our best during the summer to fix that and tried to simulate as much as a possible to a shift or to a longer stretch.

“We tried to do the right things. We’ll see how it goes.”

Tocchet has promised every player a clean slate, but the evaluation process of Strome has already begun and the expectations for what he must be are clear.

“Wherever he’s been he’s a point producer. Be that guy,” said Tocchet, suggesting a comparison between Strome and Dallas center Jason Spezza. “With that kind of body and he has that kind of hands, can he be that type of guy?”

If Strome can’t in camp, there is still the chance he will start the season in the AHL with Tucson. Nobody wants that, however. Not Strome. Not Tocchet. Not GM John Chayka or the Coyotes fan base.

“Either way, I know this year I’m going to start my professional career,” Strome said. “Hopefully, I’m going to do the best I can to make it in the NHL and prove I belong here all year.”

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