Leafs could be prime to pick OHL scoring champ Dylan Strome
Dylan Strome from the Erie Otter OHL team. (Bob Tymczyszyn/QMI Agency)
If the Leafs don’t get the chance to go big in this June’s NHL entry draft, will they be able to go Strome?
The team will need some good fortune with the lottery balls to catch the big prize, Erie Otters superstar Connor McDavid.
But it’s possible that they may need a different form of luck to grab McDavid’s teammate and Ontario Hockey League scoring champ Dylan Strome.
Given his late-season scoring surge and his further blossoming since NHL Central Scouting’s mid-season rankings, Strome’s draft stock is on the rise, possibly with a bullet.
And if the Leafs want a shot at the promising, high-scoring centre, they best not catch any teams ahead of them in the meaningless eight games that remain in their season.
Strome’s performance in the Otters final regular-season contest Sunday in St. Catharines was the type that can make fans, general managers and scouts rave.
In the chase for the scoring title, Strome needed a huge game to surpass London Knights sniper Mitch Marner, another possible top-five pick this June. The Mississauga native responded with four goals and two assists to finish with 129 points in 68 games, three points clear of Marner.
Strome was pegged fifth among North American skaters in the mid-season scouting rankings. Now, a top-three pick is not out of the question, depending on the needs and loves of the team drafting.
Scouts who already appreciated his size and playmaking skill, took note of the clutch component in his most recent effort.
“Anyone who has watched the kid play at different points of the season, has to appreciate how his game has evolved,” an NHL scout who has seen multiple Otters games told the Toronto Sun on Tuesday. “He was always seen as a certain high first-rounder, but he continues to impress. He has certainly given teams (selecting) in the top five something more to think about.”
Be assured that the Leafs management is among them. That late-game flurry that didn’t work out against the Wild on Monday night may have been for the best, because every point gained now could take the Leafs a step away from Strome.
Losers of six games in a row, the Leafs sit 27th in the overall standings. If the 9.5% chance they currently have to get McDavid doesn’t pan out, they could pick fourth in what should be prime territory to land Strome.
Climb much higher (they trail Carolina by two points, though the Hurricanes have a pair of games in hand) and there is the possibility that Strome may not be available.
The 2015 draft class is still a deep one, but if Strome is the guy Brendan Shanahan, Dave Nonis, Mark Hunter and Dave Morrison want, how the rest of the season plays out could be fun.
The potential of a Leafs-Strome marriage gets better the more you look at it. Start with the fact he his a skilled centre with a 6-foot-3, 187-pound frame that should fill out as he matures. His point production was helped by working the power-play with McDavid, but he did well on his own, too, and scouts love that he’s strong on the puck (possession, possession, possession) and that he’s a big-time playmaker.
And did we mention that he’s a centre, the long-standing black hole on the Leafs roster?
Then there’s his pedigree. Strome’s older brother, Ryan, is developing nicely with the New York Islanders in his second NHL season. Selected fifth overall in 2011, Ryan is tied for second in Isles scoring with 15 goals and 30 assists in 70 games prior to Tuesday.
Some scouts suggest “little” brother Dylan has more upside and his rousing season with Erie would back up the notion. Even younger brother, Matt, who scored the OT winner when the Toronto Marlies minor midgets captured the OHL Cup earlier this week, is also a talent.
And, finally, he’s from Mississauga. If the Leafs drafted Strome, it would keep the Don Cherry constituency happy.
Right now, the consensus top-two picks are McDavid and Boston University centre Jack Eichel. After that, it gets tricky.
Boston College defenceman Noah Hanifan has long been seen as No. 3 prospect, but Strome is closing the gap in some evaluating eyes and Marner also has serious support.
There isn’t a GM that will reveal his hand until he gets to the draft floor in South Florida this June, but Strome offers some interesting possibilities for the Leafs.
Imagine having Strome, William Nylander and diminutive Connor Brown (who preceded Strome in Erie and also won an OHL scoring title) all develop into legit big-leaguers a few years down the road.
Safe to say NHL scouts will be out in force at the Erie Insurance Arena when the Otters begin their opening-round series against the Sarnia Sting on Thursday.
McDavid will be the star of the show, of course, but a long playoff run by the Otters could send Strome’s draft stock soaring even higher.
“The attention and the spotlight can hype a player even more with fans,” the NHL scout said. “But talent evaluators also like to see what a player can do when the games and the checking gets tougher.
“Not many would be surprised if this Strome kid continues to impress. Whoever takes him could be getting a difference maker. He’s a competitive young guy.”
The Leafs and their fans won’t have a playoff game to tune to on Saturday, April 18, but they might not want to be too far from the Hockey Night In Canada telecast.
The NHL hasn’t finalized its plans, but the buzz is that the annual draft lottery will take place that night, given the massive interest Canadian viewers have in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes.
That date will be the first Saturday of the Stanley Cup playoffs and one of the deepest NHL drafts in years will start to take shape. The Buffalo Sabres are the current frontrunners with a 20% chance to win McDavid followed by the Arizona Coyotes (13.5%), Edmonton Oilers (11.5%) and the Leafs (9.5%).