Strome's comfort level with Hawks improves thanks to the 'Cat'

 
 
Updated 1/9/2019 8:46 AM
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  • The Blackhawks' Alex DeBrincat has made life easier for pal Dylan Strome, who arrived in a trade with Arizona.

    The Blackhawks' Alex DeBrincat has made life easier for pal Dylan Strome, who arrived in a trade with Arizona. Associated Press

  • Hawks center Dylan Strome, here battling Dallas' Jamie Benn, has 7 goals and 7 assists since arriving via trade from Arizona.

    Hawks center Dylan Strome, here battling Dallas' Jamie Benn, has 7 goals and 7 assists since arriving via trade from Arizona. Associated Press

Practice is over.

One by one the Blackhawks enter the dressing room and walk to their stalls.

There's almost always one exception to this daily routine at MB Ice Arena or the United Center -- and that's when Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome stroll in together and sit side by side.

These two 21-year-old whippersnappers hit it off immediately when they roomed together with the same Billet family while lighting up the OHL with the Erie Otters from 2014 to 2017.

And it's clear to anyone who's paying attention things haven't changed one bit since.

Best buds then. Best buds now.

Almost to a fault.

"Still spending a lot of time together," says DeBrincat, adding with a wry smile: "Maybe too much time."

Says Strome, who is also chuckling: "He asks me to hang out all the time. I have to say no sometimes."

Strome was taken third overall by the Arizona Coyotes in 2015, and DeBrincat went to the Hawks the following year. The odds of them ever playing on the same NHL team seemed remote, but here they are, reunited thanks to General Manager Stan Bowman shipping Nick Schmaltz to the Coyotes for Strome and Brendan Perlini on Nov. 25.

Arizona GM John Chayka's impatience with his two young forwards prompted him to make the deal before -- as he put it -- "the assets expired."

Now, though, it looks like a fresh start has lit a fire under Strome with no expiration date in sight.

In 21 games since the trade, he has 7 goals and 7 assists. He had 3 goals and 3 assists in 20 games with Arizona.

DeBrincat's presence has definitely helped ease Strome's transition.

"I was telling my parents that when I was home for Christmas," said Strome, who lives in the same building as DeBrincat and hitches a ride to games and practices with his friend. "It made everything so much easier, just having that familiar face."

The assumption when Strome came to Chicago was he would skate on DeBrincat's line. That hasn't been the case over the past 10 games, though, as coach Jeremy Colliton has elected to put Strome between Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov. It has by no means been the perfect combination, as opponents are outchancing the Hawks 69-49 in 5-on-5 play, according to naturalstattrick.com.

Still, the Hawks are 6-3-1 over that stretch and this line has outscored opponents 5-4 -- including Strome's game-winner Sunday at Pittsburgh.

"The thing I like about Strome is he thinks the game so well," Colliton said. "If he gets the puck with any time, he usually makes a play.

"I think that's a nice fit with those two. And you see that Kaner's willing to give the puck to him, so then you want to play guys like that with him."

Bowman nearly echoed those thoughts in an interview about two weeks ago.

"When the (trade) discussions started to pick up and I got a chance to go watch him play, I was impressed with his hockey instincts and his offensive creativity," Bowman said. "(Either) you have it or you don't. ... He kind of sees plays develop like the elite offensive players do.

"It's like they're kind of thinking a step ahead of the other team."

Bowman is understandably thrilled with Strome's progress and hopes his young forward strongly considers staying in Chicago to train this off-season.

"He's adjusted really nicely in a short amount of time," Bowman said, "and I get excited thinking, 'Imagine where he'll be in a year when he understands the way we play and hopefully we can make some strides in his physical development.'"

Strome said he's not worried about next off-season yet, but if he needs a nudge to stay, all he has to do is look at DeBrincat for inspiration. Instead of going home to Michigan, DeBrincat trained with Paul Goodman and -- even after an impressive 28-goal rookie campaign -- has taken his game to another level this season.

So there's that.

But there's also the fact that -- assuming DeBrincat sticks around again -- Strome will have somebody to hang with all summer while enjoying all Chicago has to offer.

"I feel comfortable and I feel like I'm hungry," Strome said, "and I want to prove to people that I can (play) like that third overall pick. I'm trying to do whatever I can to be a good player and produce and help this team win.

"It's been a lot of fun so far."

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