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Physical maturity is Dylan Strome’s ticket back to NHL

Arizona Coyotes' Dylan Strome smiles during the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) Rookie Showcase in Toronto, Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press via AP)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Coyotes general manager John Chayka and coach Dave Tippett had breakfast with Dylan Strome on Sunday morning where they delivered some tough news. Strome was headed back to Erie of the Ontario Hockey League after a seven-game trial had shown he was not ready to make the leap to the NHL this season.

“His mind and his skill level are very good, but the physical maturity just isn’t at the level that it needs to be to be able to compete every night,” Tippett said.

Tippett and Chayka knew the message would be hard to hear, but to their delight, Strome took it in stride.

“He was unbelievable,” Tippett said. “He’s all on board. He wants to be an NHL player as quick as he can, but he wants to be a good NHL player; he doesn’t just want to be a player that’s on the fringes.”

In seven games, Strome had one assist, he seldom impacted the game and he spent 10 games as a healthy scratch. He was living on the fringes in his six weeks with the club. It was apparent to the hockey operations staff, it was apparent to the players and it was apparent to Strome that he was not ready.

“The month and a half he’s been here, he’s realized how hard it is to play in the league and how committed athletes are,” Tippett said, citing practice habits, nutrition and rest as some of the myriad lessons Strome absorbed. “Those are some of the lessons we felt like he needed to learn. Some of those things have sunk in very well.”

The Coyotes made the decision to send Strome back to juniors now so that he can play some games with Erie before the World Junior Championship (Strome will compete for Canada) begins in Montreal and Toronto the day after Christmas.

Chayka admitted it was an imperfect situation. The Coyotes believe the best thing for Strome would have been to play in Tucson of the American Hockey League, but because he is just 19 he is not eligible, per the CHL-NHL agreement. With that option closed, Chayka and Tippett feel there are experiences like the World Juniors that will be beneficial for the Mississauga, Ontario product.

“I think that’s important to be in Canada for him,” Chayka said. “He should be a big part of that team; a big part of that leadership group.

“The Erie team is a lot better than I expected them to be, too, so he has a chance to go back and win a Memorial Cup.”

The Coyotes knew Strome had some physical maturing to do when he arrived for training camp after a productive summer, but they wanted to see how he could stack up against NHL players in his first go-round.

“We went into it with an open mind,” Tippett said. “If he could get up and going at the level he needed to, we were very open to keeping him and we’ve shown that with other players, but with him it’s a different situation. He needs to be a top player for us and we need him to be a top player. We’re trying to do everything we can to fast-track him here. This was part of the process.”

Tippett and Chayka believe the six weeks in the NHL were more beneficial to Strome than six weeks in juniors would have been.

“When you’re competing with NHL players every day, you’re getting better in a hurry,” Tippett said. “This six weeks or seven weeks or whatever it was, I guarantee you he got way more out of this than he would going back and playing junior for a month and a half.

“He would have gone back and he’d be leading the scoring race — he’d have done all of that. He needs to play with men and we needed to see what level he could get to. In the end, we decided this was the best approach for his long-term development but I think this month and a half he’ll look back on (will) be very, very valuable for him.”

Tippett and Chayka said the development staff and strength and training staff would be in constant contact with Strome all the way up to next year’s training camp. The summer will be vital for adding muscle mass and leg strength, but Chayka said “it’s his on ice performance that we’re looking for right now.”

Tippett cited Max Domi as the prime example of this process working in a player’s favor. Domi spent four years with the London Knights of the OHL — one season more than fans had hoped — and when he reported to training camp last year he was ready for the NHL, posting 18 goals and 52 points.

“There’s an accountability they have to (have) to play in the NHL game, especially being a top player,” Tippett said. “He’s going to have to play against other teams’ top players, be a guy that’s going to have to deal with checkers on him all the time. There’s lot of parts of the game that you have to learn and he’s got a good start.

“What he learned from the start of the season to now, we need him to take that back there. He’s a real smart kid. Play an NHL game in junior. Don’t float around and get your points. Play a 200-foot game in junior. Those are the things that he’s got to continue to work on and if he does that he’ll be back to the NHL soon.”

Canucks at Coyotes

When: 8 p.m., Wednesday
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Radio: ESPN 620 AM
Records: Coyotes 6-9-2. Canucks 7-10-2.

Injury report: Coyotes — C Brad Richardson (broken right tibia and fibula) is out indefinitely. Richardson flew back to the Valley from Vancouver on Monday. D Alex Goligoski (ill) and F Ryan White (upper body) are day to day. Canucks — Fs Derek Dorsett (shoulder) Jannik Hansen (undisclosed), Anton Rodin (knee) and D Chris Tanev (lower body) are on IR.

Scouting the Canucks: LW Daniel Sedin leads the Canucks with six goals and 13 points. … Vancouver is 3-6-1 in its last 10 and just 1-6-1 on the road this season … The Canucks recalled F Joseph LaBate from the AHL Utica Comets

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