Former top-3 pick Dylan Strome still vying for Coyotes roster spot

Sep 28, 2017, 3:44 PM | Updated: Sep 29, 2017, 11:14 am
Arizona Coyotes' Dylan Strome, right, tries to get past Calgary Flames' Matt Stajan during the seco...

Arizona Coyotes' Dylan Strome, right, tries to get past Calgary Flames' Matt Stajan during the second period of an NHL preseason hockey game in Calgary, Alberta, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)

(Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dylan Strome has been in this situation before, waiting and wondering as training camp winds down.

Last season, he made the Coyotes’ roster out of camp and played seven games before the staff sent him back to Erie of the Ontario Hockey League. This season, coach Rick Tocchet isn’t tipping his hand as to how he is leaning, with Arizona’s No. 3 overall selection in the 2015 NHL Draft eligible to play pro hockey with the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate in Tucson.

“He’s done some good things,” Tocchet said Thursday. “To me, it’s [about] consistency. It is always with the young guys.”

The Coyotes have 29 players on their camp roster. They have to get down to 23 by Oct. 3. It’s clear that goalies Hunter Miska and Marek Langhamer will head to the minor leagues, and defenseman Dakota Mermis will likely head down as soon as Oliver Ekman-Larsson is ready to return from a knee injury (he skated before practice on Thursday).

With defenseman Jakob Chychrun likely headed to injured reserve when the season opens, the Coyotes are allowed to carry another player. That leaves two more cuts.

Arizona waived Emerson Etem on Wednesday but he remained with the NHL club after clearing waivers on Thursday. Tocchet said he is still in the mix for a roster spot, but the waiver move allows them to send him down if he doesn’t grab one of those spots.

The forward decisions will likely come down to Strome, Mario Kempe, Zac Rinaldo and Etem. If Strome doesn’t make the roster, Nick Cousins or Jordan Martinook could slide to center.

“Sometimes, there are guys where you’re waiting for them to separate themselves,” Tocchet said. “How much longer can you wait?

“I’m a puzzle guy. I think it makes no sense carrying a guy, if he’s an offensive guy, putting him on a fourth-line role and playing him whatever, 10 minutes.”

Tocchet did not elaborate, and he said no decisions had been made yet on the roster, but his comments could mean he’s waiting for Strome to show he deserves more minutes in the final two preseason games.

“I try to get a little bit better every game and I’m trying to build off the last game where I thought I had the puck on my stick a little more,” Strome said. “That’s when I’m doing my best, when I have the puck on my stick and I’m playing good defensively and not causing any goals against us.”

Tocchet wants to see Strome execute the small details more consistently.

“When he’s that guy that has to close on a guy he has to close on a guy,” Tocchet said. “You cannot be a step late or something like that. He shows a lot of good promise. The guy gets points. Somehow he’s around the net and that’s a good thing to have.”

Strome is getting feedback and watching video with the staff, but he said at this point in his career, he already knows the mistakes when he’s made them.

“It’s on you to correct things,” he said.

Coyotes general manager John Chayka has made it clear that the team will do what it believes is in the best interest of the player’s development. Making the team out of camp could boost Strome’s confidence and it would be in line with the youth movement the Coyotes are embracing, but Tocchet — without singling out Strome — said there is value in players getting time in the AHL, too.

“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s experience, it’s consistency.”

Strome understands his performance the rest of this week could decide if he’s past all that.

“That’s what I’m here for, that’s what I’m trying to do,” he said.” A couple days left and you’ve got to prove that you deserve to be here.”

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