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It’s impossible to deny: Dylan Strome has been a disappointment so far

(Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press via AP)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The most important aspect of the Coyotes’ trade on Tuesday was not the acquisition of forward Josh Archibald. He’s a depth player who will bring speed, but won’t bring much offense. He is coach Rick Tocchet’s style of player; a sticky guy who will rattle some cages and illustrate the determination with which Tocchet would like his more offensively skilled players to play.

Every team needs those kinds of players, but the Coyotes need the type of player that went south on Tuesday far worse. Dylan Strome’s latest NHL stint lasted nine games before the Coyotes re-assigned the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft to Tucson of the American Hockey League.

While Coyotes general manager John Chayka put on a dispassionate face in outlining the positives of Strome playing more minutes, and more meaningful minutes in Tucson, you can bet that privately, the Coyotes are disappointed in his latest showing.

When Arizona recalled Strome on Nov. 26, assistant GM Steve Sullivan said Strome had nothing left to prove in Tucson.

“We got to the point where we just don’t know what else he can do because Dylan has done most everything we’ve asked him to do,” Sullivan said. “When we sent him down, we thought, ‘let him figure things out for a while’ and around Christmas was probably when we thought we’d take another look.

“But at Thanksgiving, we look and he’s leading the league in scoring, playing better than when he left. So you ask, ‘at what point does staying down become a negative? If he stays another month is he going to get much better?’ Probably not.”

The problem for Strome was that none of that progress was evident in the NHL. He had just one point (a goal on Dec. 2 against the New Jersey Devils), he played tentatively, he was too willing to give up the puck when his strength is playing with the puck, and he struggled with the smaller windows of time and space to read, react and make plays.

Regardless of his oft-discussed foot speed, Strome just didn’t seem to think the game at the NHL pace.

“I think that’s one area where he can improve but that’s not the only area,” Chayka said. “I think it’s just the overall speed and strength of the game that he’s got to continue to work on and there’s more opportunity for him to do that at the American League level.”

There are examples of late bloomers in the National Hockey League and Strome is only 20, but it may be time to reassess his ceiling. It would take a quantum leap for him to become the No. 1 center the franchise envisioned and needed when it drafted him — so much in fact that then-GM Don Maloney was unwilling to part with the pick when he could have landed defenseman Dougie Hamilton in a trade.

Strome may never be more than a middle-six center. That clearly is not enough return from the third overall pick, so the selection can not be considered a success, but maybe the Coyotes can mold Strome into a productive NHL player while they continue their decades-long search for a main man in the middle.

Coyotes fans tend to fixate on the lost NHL Draft Lottery and the two players who went ahead of Strome in 2015, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Buffalo’s Jack Eichel, but the sting of that draft is all the more poignant when you consider some of the players that went after Strome, including Toronto’s Mitch Marner, Carolina’s Noah Hanifin, Columbus’ Zach Werenski, Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen, the New York Islanders’ Mathew Barzal, Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor and Vancouver’s Brock Boeser.

Some of those players might have better filled a need at center, some would have added skill at other positions, but the fact remains: the Coyotes are still searching for a No. 1 center. With each passing opportunity, it becomes increasingly clear that Strome is not that guy.

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