Coyotes prospects Strome, Dvorak on verge of making NHL leap
GLENDALE, Ariz. — There is little doubt that Coyotes center prospects Dylan Strome and Christian Dvorak benefited from another year in the Ontario Hockey League.
Strome finished fourth in the league in points with 111 points (37 goals) and Coyotes coach Dave Tippett liked what he saw from Strome at the IIHF World Junior Championship.
Dvorak finished second in the OHL with 121 points (52 goals) and led London to the Memorial Cup title with 12 points and a tournament-high seven goals in four games.
“They have both come ahead,” Tippet said. “Look at what Dvorak has done: won a championship and really led his team in that direction. Strome, I thought could arguably have been the best player on the World Junior team for Canada. Both of them made huge strides this year.”
The question on everyone’s minds: Are both ready to make the leap to the NHL this season? That won’t be determined until training camp, but there are a few factors the Coyotes staff is weighing in anticipation of that decision.
The first question would be how to fit both. Arizona already has Martin Hanzal, Brad Richardson and Antoine Vermette under contract for next season. It’s possible Richardson could move to the wing but he signed with Arizona last season with the understanding he would play center. He has noted multiple times that he is more comfortable at center and he was effective there last season between Shane Doan and Jordan Martinook.
It’s possible the Coyotes could look to trade one of their centers (Vermette has a no-move clause), but at the moment, there are not rosters spots for both Strome and Dvorak and general manager John Chayka reiterated on Wednesday that the Coyotes view both as centers and there are “no plans to change that.”
From an external perspective, the hope is that Strome and Dvorak can fill the franchise center role the Coyotes have lacked at least since Jeremy Roenick left, and arguably since the team moved to Arizona.
“It’s pretty cool to have people putting that pressure on you, putting that onus on you to be that centerman,” Strome said. “I’m just going to try to do my best.”
“I just use it as motivation,” Dvorak added. “I don’t feel any pressure and I’m sure (Dylan) doesn’t either. We just try to play our games, try to do what we do out there and whatever happens, happens. We’re both trying to make the team this year and that’s our goal.”
Aside from experience, the Coyotes staff will be weighing a handful of other measurables when considering each player’s NHL-readiness, including their physical ability to play against men instead of teenagers, and their ability to play a detail-oriented game without the puck. Both players’ skating abilities have been questioned in the past: Strome for his stride and Dvorak for his first couple steps, but development coach Steve Sullivan has a more nuanced analysis.
“There are strengths and weaknesses to every single hockey player,” Sullivan said. “Do we feel it’s going to be an issue? We don’t know. Time will tell.”
Sullivan said Strome has been working with Coyotes skating coach Dawn Braid on his stride.
“It’s not like it’s structurally bad,” Sullivan said. “It’s more (about) power, firing the right way … and then putting some strength behind it. We think that will be the success pattern.”
Dvorak is working on acceleration, but what both players have are qualities that are much harder to teach or correct, Sullivan said. Both use intelligence, vision and an understanding of the game to put themselves in the right positions, even if they can’t do so with blinding speed.
“There’s no rush,” Sullivan said. “Externally there is, but at the end of the day, you’re going to be an NHL hockey player for a long time so don’t cheat the process. Make sure you’re going through it and understand there are reasons behind everything.”
Strome, 19, isn’t eligible to play in the AHL this season, so sending him back to juniors would be the only other option. Dvorak, 20, is AHL eligible, so if roster spots become an issue he would be the most logical choice to spend some time in Tucson, whether it’s a partial season, half a season or an entire year.
Neither one is getting that far ahead of themselves, and neither is ready to concede anything.
“You see a lot of young guys having success in the league,” Dvorak said. “Obviously, (Max) Domi and (Anthony) Duclair have great speed and they had a huge impact on the Coyotes last season. I will try to use that as motivation.”
Strome has his own source of motivation after making it late into camp last season before heading back to juniors in the Coyotes’ final wave of cuts.
“I was pretty proud of what I accomplished,” he said. “I don’t think anyone here expected me to get that far and I think it turned a lot of heads.
“I’m just going to focus on being the best I can be in Arizona and try to prove to a lot of people that I can be that first-line center.”