Ryan Strome came to Edmonton as part of an Oilers salary dump, and by now we know how that tends to work.
The team that dealt away the $6-million player — in this case Jordan Eberle — for the guy making $2.5 million on the final year of his deal, always does its best to portray things as a hockey trade. But, frankly, there’s a reason one guys makes more than twice what the other does.
Then, in Strome’s case, the team goes into an early-season spiral. Now, integrating the new guy goes straight to the back burner, while the coach tries to wake up the troops with a hard practice on Wednesday.
For Strome, it’s hard to get to know the new guys when they’re beating the hell out of you in a battle drill, or nearly puking after a tough set of post-practice lines. Right?
“In an interesting way, it’s almost a little easier, because you face adversity as a group,” said Strome, whose Oilers are 1-2 with Ottawa coming to town Saturday night. “When you go through these things, you learn a lot about each other, and each other’s character. You learn a lot about your teammates.
“To me, the last week or so has been the best week I’ve had here. The most fun I’ve had, learned the most, and really started to connect with the guys.”
It has been a disjointed start here in Edmonton for Strome, 24, who opened camp as the right-winger on the top line with Connor McDavid and Patrick Maroon. That lasted just a couple of pre-season games, and by opening night he was playing third-line centre with Drake Caggiula and Jussi Jokinen.
With Game 4 on Saturday, Strome is back at centre ice between Jokinen and Zack Kassian. By now, we’re not sure whether Strome is supposed to be a centre or a winger. Then again, you could say the same for Leon Draisaitl.
What does Strome consider himself?
“A versatile forward,” he laughed. “Obviously Connor and Leon can play really well together, and when that happens they’ll need someone to play down the middle.
“At the same time, a lot of teams win with strength down the middle. So when Leon is in the middle I can play the wing.”
The singular disappointment of Oilers training camp 2017 was that none of the right-wing candidates showed well enough to force Draisaitl off of McDavid’s right side. Jesse Puljujarvi wasn’t NHL ready. Anton Slepyshev hurt his ankle and missed camp. Caggiula was underwhelming throughout camp, and so, frankly, was Strome.
One senses head coach Todd McLellan would ascent to separating McDavid and Draisaitl, but not until he gets a top-line right winger who can force the move. Strome, in limited pre-season minutes, didn’t convince his coach.
Even if McDavid sounds impressed.
“You’ve just got to be a smart player, and he is that,” McDavid said. “I like playing with the guys who think the game, who do all the little things. Who make the game easier. Just make the game easier for everyone.”
Lip service? Who really knows, at this point.
For Strome, who is still searching for his first point as an Oiler, he’s just trying to get to know everyone’s nickname, and become part of the team that everybody around the National Hockey League thought the Oilers would be.
“When you come into a team that had a good year, you just want to do your part,” he said. “For me, being versatile and playing different positions actually kind of helps that. I can bounce around a little bit, find the coach’s trust where they want to put me.”
Production would help that process along, we’d guess. It’s early, but never too early to turn some heads.