When A First Round Pick Changes The Culture

It seems like forever ago when any NHL team took to the ice, but it seemed like the season had never ended. At least it had that sort of sense in the desert, where yet again there was a little speculation if the Arizona Coyotes would remain. Wherever they would have been, it’s all about thinking for the future. Seasoned veterans like Shane Doan are looking to finish out their career very strong and on a high note. Others like Max Domi have been waiting for quite a while to dress in Sedona Red and begin to make an impact.

One person that is new to the whole NHL campaign is first round draft pick Dylan Strome, who was selected third in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. After Conor McDavid and Jack Eichel were taken first and second by Edmonton and Buffalo, Strome knew that heading to Arizona meant that he is considered to be a very important piece to their puzzle that needs to be filled right away.

“Arizona saw something in me,” Strome said in an interview in September. “I hope to prove they made the right choice. That’s all I can do. I was extremely happy to be picked third and to be the first pick in that second wave of the draft. It was cool.”

Strome is by far one of the more talented skaters that the Coyotes were eyeing since the beginning of the draft process. In the OHL last season, he scored 43 goals and earned 125 points with the Erie Otters. In Arizona, they averaged a near league low 2.01 goals per game in regulation. In some instances, the offense was non-existent, and when they were out of playoff contention in early February, the team decided to expand their roster and dish out a fire sale to the entire league.

It is without question that the Coyotes are planning to be one of the most talented teams in the league. Head coach Dave Tippett loves to work with young talent, and this year he is inundated with them. With the rookie camp just underway and rookie games beginning Tuesday against the Los Angeles Kings, there are still no guarantees for anyone to make the roster. Without question Strome, Domi, and Anthony Duclaire will have a lot of eyes on them, but the remaining talented skaters will have to compete just as much.

Strome is coming to a team that has had some good veterans, but the mixed talent has not resulted all that well. The Mike Ribeiro experiment failed miserably near the end of the 2014 season, and last year the team had keeled over with so much raw experience. This time around, Strome is extremely eager to make a big impact, but the Coyotes know that the expense has to be well worth the try.

“I think you want to get to the NHL as quick as possible,” Strome said. “Also, you don’t want to disappoint the team that drafted you. You want to be good for the team that picked you so high and you want to be part of the new culture, because obviously the team was pretty low in the standings if you were drafted that high. You want to bring them back to where they were in the past. It’s cool to hopefully be part of a rebuild.”

For Tippett’s sake, having players like Strome mean a lot, but there could be much more than a first round draft pick that can completely change the regime.

“We’ve seen talent but probably not the depth of talent,” Tippett said after a rookie camp session. “So many players in this camp that you look at, they’ve got a shot to make our team, too. We’ve never been in that position before.”

It is certainly true that there is no guarantee that Strome or the rest of the rookies can say they have a roster spot. But the excitement in the desert has begun in a big way. It won’t turn into wins right away, but there now seems to be a big improvement where it is more than just relying on the heavy hitters to make a big impact. Maybe this so called 18 year old could be the answer they were looking for.

“There’s no question that I feel I can be there,” Strome said. “It’s obviously going to be a tough task to get there and it doesn’t happen for too many 18-years-olds. I’m hoping I can be that guy who makes a mark and helps Arizona get back to its winning ways.”