What will Dylan Strome's role be next season?
As the Blackhawks hit the ice for warmups before their game against Nashville on April 21, Dylan Strome stretched out, took shots and did his line rushes.
It looked like just another normal pregame skate before a huge game against the Predators.
But moments later in the locker room, Strome received some bombshell news from the coaching staff: "Dylan, you're sitting out."
It was one of four healthy scratches for the Hawks' forward in the last nine games of the season.
"It (stinks)," Strome said during his final media availability Tuesday. "Luckily I have a good support system at home. It's nice to see your baby girl's face and see how sometimes hockey doesn't matter as much as you think.
"Obviously, I'm a guy that cares about hockey a lot. It's been my whole life. When you get scratched or you don't expect to be scratched and you're scratched and you go home, you have that to look forward to. ...
"It's still never fun. It (stinks) and it (honked) me off a lot."
While the scratch caught Strome off guard, coach Jeremy Colliton said it didn't seem right to tell his forward, "You might play tonight. You might not. It depends on how Wyatt Kalynuk is feeling."
"You never like letting a guy know late like that," Colliton said. "But (we felt) like that was the best, and we explained that to Stromer. So it shouldn't be an issue."
What remains at issue -- assuming he's not traded or taken by Seattle in the expansion draft -- is Strome's role next season.
Strome was acquired from Arizona for Nick Schmaltz with hopes he could become a top-six or top-nine center. There have been some impressive moments during Strome's time in Chicago, during which he's averaged 20 goals per 82 games.
There have problems, as well, however as:
• Strome's missed 28 games due to injuries the past two seasons. Two absences were due to concussions.
• His overall 200-foot game isn't as consistent as the Hawks would like.
• His faceoff win percentage is 46.4% in 156 games with the Hawks.
• His foot speed and quickness are average at best.
Those flaws -- combined with the Hawks' glut at the center position -- led the Hawks to putting Strome on the wing at times during the last two seasons.
It's not a spot he's comfortable in, but he wasn't about to whine about it publicly.
"At the end of the day, hockey's hockey," said Strome, who finished with 9 goals and 8 assists in 40 games. "I tried my best to create chances and find a way to be good on the wing. Obviously I'm not as comfortable there, but we've got some good centers on this team.
"I feel like I can be one of those centers and hopefully I can prove it."
The competition will be fierce, especially with Jonathan Toews likely returning and Kirby Dach coming back 100 percent. If David Kampf remains in the fourth-line defensive role, that means Strome will likely be fighting with at least Pius Suter and Henrik Borgstrom for the third-line role.
General manager and president of hockey operations Stan Bowman reminded everyone that Strome got off to a solid start (4G, 4A in first 13 games) before a concussion threw him off track.
"He was out for a while, so when you come back, it takes some time to get your rhythm and timing," Bowman said. "By that point, our team had found its rhythm and he hadn't been in the lineup. So it's trying to find his spot coming back in. That was a challenge to get his consistency. ...
"He had stretches where he was effective. His production wasn't what it was in the past, but that's part of it and that happens. ... Dylan's still 24 years old. He's not been in the league that long, so he's figuring (the consistency thing) out."
For those who are wondering, Schmaltz had 10 goals and 22 assists in 52 games and is averaging 15 goals per 82 since going to the Coyotes. So it's not like either player has excelled at their new address.
Strome is hoping, however, that a new -- and hopefully normal -- season will be all he needs to prove any doubters wrong.
"With the past couple years, I feel I've played the best hockey of my career, maybe excluding this year," Strome said. "The previous two years, I felt like I've been a really good NHLer, a good point producer and someone that can be relied upon.
"Hopefully I can get back to that and they see me as a valuable asset. That's what I'm looking forward to. ...
"It's been a crazy year and I don't want to say I'm thankful it's over, but I'm thankful for the next year. ... I'm looking forward to that and getting back to normal. I think everyone is."
By the numbersDylan Strome's stats
Season, team GP G A Pts.
2016-17, Ari. 7 0 1 1
2017-18, Ari. 21 4 5 9
2018-19, Ari. 20 3 3 6
2018-19, Chi. 58 17 34 51
2019-20, Chi. 58 12 26 38
2020-21, Chi. 40 9 8 17
Totals 204 45 77 122