What constitutes a “hockey player?” What I mean by that is not the literal definition, as in someone who throws the gear on or even collects a paycheck for it. I’m talking about the special guys who watch and you know right away. Put into the context I intend, a phrase you might hear is “Now there’s a hockey player.” We all have our own ideas on which attributes are most important in drawing that conclusion. I’m sure every scout, fan or writer have their own opinions. Some put more emphasis on size, some on puck handling. Others look to production, while many look to shooting or strength. As for Dylan Strome, you can go ahead and check the box marked “all of the above.” This young man didn’t accumulate 129 points to lead the OHL by accident. His high end talent is apparent and obviously the driving factor behind him being one of the top rated prospects available in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Just like everyone, I have my own definition and preferences. Ability alone just doesn’t cut it for me. Bobby Orr once said, “Skill is nothing more than potential without effort.” Here in Toronto, we see plenty of talent. We see ability and we certainly see skill. That’s all well and good, but I can tell you for certain that the readers bleeding blue here at LeafsHub.com long for something more. In return for their undying loyalty, they are asking for qualities that extends beyond the ice. Fans want to feel a sense of pride, not only for the crest on their jersey. They want to be equally proud of the name stitched on the back.
The NHL recently announced the 2015 Draft Lottery will take place on April 18th, during the intermission of its marquee playoff telecast. This will be the first of two massive days circled on the calendars of every die hard Leafs supporter. Although the lottery will end speculation as to where Toronto selects on June 26th, the other day circled, the real debate will only just be kicking into high gear (barring the 6/49 numbers coming in http://leafshub.com/mcdavid-draft-lottery-odds/). Based on projections, the probable finish for Toronto is 27th. This would leave the organization with the 4th overall pick. With the Blue & White in the midst of a “scorch the earth” rebuild, making the right decision on draft day is the most crucial one facing them. If they hope to enjoy a successful rebuild, there is no room for error. Every aspect of their choice must be taken into consideration.
It’s the magnitude and implications of that decision which has this writer, who is a fan first and foremost, watching video and making phone calls to those with first-hand knowledge of Toronto’s options at the draft table. Obviously that’s not enough to gauge a prospect, so I’ve been heading to the arena as well. I’ve bent the ear of scouts, coaches and people close to the players in the Maple Leafs draft range. The list is very, very short, and I’ve zeroed in on the same few prospects as everybody else. We all know who is on the radar, and I could tell you guys what I like about the player on the ice. I could share every note I’ve taken. The thing is, you can find that anywhere from professionals. So not only for myself, the fan, but for everybody contemplating who our Leafs will choose, I thought we should take it one step further. I told you above that LeafsHub.com isn’t just interested in talent. We want to know, and we want you to know, a little bit about the young man who may just end up representing Leafs Nation for years to come. I wanted to hear from Dylan Strome, himself. I’d like to thank the Erie Otters and their organization for allowing us this opportunity. They have been nothing but accommodating, and I’d like to thank Dylan for being gracious with his time.
Jude: “Before we get started Dylan, I want to congratulate you on an outstanding season in Erie and winning the OHL scoring title. The fashion in which you won it will likely be a memory you’ll have forever.”
Dylan: “Well, thanks. I appreciate that. We have a great group of guys here and the scoring title was a big thrill, I’m not going to lie. But it truly is a team award. The focus now for us is the playoffs and performing at our best. We hope to do something special here for the fans in Erie.”
J: “How about we get this out of the way right off the bat. It’s well known yours was a “Leafs House” growing up. I’m not going to say “Dylan, let’s be honest, you want to be a Leaf”, but can we assume that this would be something you would welcome?”
D: “Oh, for sure. There’s been a lot of anticipation waiting for the day, but you try not to look too far ahead. Wherever I go I’ll be proud to have been chosen, but there’s no doubt coming to Toronto would be a dream come true. It’s a world class organization and I’ve been a Leafs fan my whole life. All of our family was. My early memories are of those Leafs/Sens match-ups and the feeling around our place during those games. Everybody would gather around the TV in our Leafs gear. Those were great teams to pull for.”
J: “Since you mentioned putting on your Leafs gear, who was the player you bonded with on those squads? Did you have a favourite Leaf back then?”
D: “Honestly, it really wasn’t one particular guy. I loved the whole line of Roberts/Sundin/Mogilny. All three were obviously solid players with different skills to offer. That’s a line I just enjoyed watching play.”
J: “Going back to that “Leafs House,” your older brother Ryan (5th overall pick, 2011- NY Islanders) is having a great season and is one heck of a player. Your younger brother Matt is playing AAA with the Marlboros in Toronto and recently scored the OT goal to win their league championship. From watching you play, other than the obvious skills, what stands out to me is your Hockey IQ. Some things can’t be taught, but they can certainly be cultivated. Do you attribute your hockey sense to the home you grew up in?”
D: “Without a doubt, my family had a tremendous impact on me when it comes to the game. For us, it was “Hockey, hockey, hockey.” Both my mom and dad were huge hockey fans. My brothers and I were in the rinks almost every day for 8-9 months of the year. But if we weren’t on the ice, then we were playing road hockey. If we weren’t playing road hockey, then we were playing mini-sticks. I’m thankful for growing up in the family I did. Nothing was ever forced on us or anything. We all just simply love the game and everything about it.”
J: “Every top prospect like yourself has their game dissected or a flaw pointed out. I’ve seen you enough to know it’s not an issue, but your skating is questioned by some. Is this an aspect of the game you are working to improve on?”
D: “I definitely want to get stronger and faster, and it’s coming. You deal with what you are given. Every player has strengths or things they are better at then some others. I try the make the most of what I have and continue to improve. Not just on my skating, but in every area of the game. I just want to keep pushing forward to get better all the time.”
J: “It’s not surprising to hear you say that, based on what I’ve heard when it comes to your make up. In Toronto, I think fans are looking to see some blue collar work ethic from the players on the roster. Off ice, are you a guy that is driven in your workout regime?”
D: “It can be difficult to work out too hard during the season because you are playing or practicing all the time. So you have to be careful with your body. I try to put a lot of emphasis on stretching, staying loose, being hydrated. To be honest I take pride in the fact, knock on wood, that I have managed to stay healthy playing hockey for the most part. I’ve never really missed much time and I think the stretching helps, but also you set the foundation in the summer. That’s when the heavy lifting and work goes in, or you are always going to be playing catch up.”
J: “You sound pretty focused for a younger man, I must say. So you’re okay with a bit of hard work?”
“Absolutely. I’m not a guy that is going to shy away or be bothered by anything like that, whether it’s a hard skate or a tough practice. That’s not something I mind at all. I hope this doesn’t come off wrong, but I welcome that type of stuff. It’s key to improving. I’m more than okay with pushing myself or being pushed.”
[quote font=”0″ font_size=”24″ arrow=”yes” align=”right”]”My thought on leadership is just being a guy that your teammates want to give everything for because they like and respect you. And that goes both ways. You want to show your teammates that you’ll go to the wall for them and if you do that, then they’ll do the same for you.” -Dylan Strome[/quote]
J: “Spoken like a team leader. Which is something else I want to talk about, and that is leadership. I know this is tough to answer, but is Dylan Strome a leader?”
D: “I think so, but for me it’s not something you go out and necessarily try to do. My thought on leadership is just being a guy that your teammates want to give everything for because they like and respect you. And that goes both ways. You want to show your teammates that you’ll go to the wall for them and if you do that, then they’ll do the same for you. That’s what we have here in Erie, a bunch of guys who like being together and when you can create that, I think leadership takes care of itself. We have a group now that plays for each other.”
J: “It doesn’t really stop off the ice, does it? Particularly here in Toronto with the media attention and demands, how do you see yourself handling the responsibility that would come with playing in a big market like this one?”
D: “As a hockey player, there’s a responsibility that goes beyond what you do on the ice. In Erie, we are out in the community all the time. Whether it’s going into schools 3-4 times a week, holding doors open for people, just basically being kind to everyone we interact with. Everybody wants to see good hockey, but what fans here really want to see is players that they genuinely like and feel a connection with. We take pride in what we try to do here and the bond we have with our supporters. Whatever city I end up playing in, my intention is to carry on with that. Not for any other reason than it’s the right way to be and it’s how I was raised. I consider myself lucky to be a hockey player and I am committed to give back in any way I can.”
J: “If you are selected by the Maple Leafs, I’m sure Leafs Nation will be happy to hear that. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard all I needed to, but before we end our chat, I just have one last question. In one word, what emotion will you be feeling if Toronto calls your name in Sunrise, Florida on June 26th?”
I’m sure you’ve heard that song “Don’t Know What You Got, Till It’s Gone.” Well, it has been seven years since Mats Sundin’s tenure ended here in Toronto. A 6’ 3”center, who was not only highly skilled, but a class individual and pillar in the community. If I had a dollar for every time during that seven-year-ache I’ve said or heard the phrase “Toronto needs a true #1 center,” I’d be writing this story from a beach in Maui being fed grapes by the hired help. Seven long years of arduous searching. On Friday, June 26th 2015, Leafs Nation’s hunt may end.
Is it fair to compare Dylan Strome to a Hall of Famer like #13? Likely not. I’m not a big fan of comparisons. However in saying that, isn’t comparing really the essence of the draft? Compiling information on players to reach a conclusion on who you want as part of your franchise’s future. Everyone is aware of the players being put side by side as the days to the draft dwindle down. As much as I’d rather not talk about this guy over that guy, lately you can’t mention Strome without hearing Marner in the next breath. Anybody who has read Marner Connection knows how I feel about the London Knights forward. Truthfully, I’m glad it’s somebody else’s call and not mine. Then of course you have Noah Hanifin. The only silver lining in this agonizing season covering the Leafs has been the opportunity to watch and hear about these young men. Who by all accounts are even better people than they are prospects, and that in itself says a lot. It wouldn’t be fair of me to completely sit on the fence, so I will make this sole comment. More than anything else going forward in the rebuilding process, the Toronto Maple Leafs need that big horse down the middle. Dylan Strome is not only that thoroughbred stud, he’s so much more.
The first night I watched the Erie Otters’ centre play, his tools were evident. I told you at the top though that I wasn’t just looking for talent. I was lucky enough to sit in the scouts section with a veteran hockey man. The game itself was a tight one. A real spirited and competitive affair. It was about the end of the 2nd where I got a glimpse of what I had been hoping to see. A member of the opposition had been flopping around for most of the game, and on about his fourth dive he was confronted at centre ice by a very animated Dylan Strome. “Stromer”, as his mates refer to him, got right in the guy’s grill. He fired a crosscheck and maybe even an expletive or two his way, and let his point be made. It was a pretty heated exchange for somebody nominated for the Most Sportsmanlike Player award. It certainly didn’t go unnoticed. When I looked to the reaction of the Erie bench and the greeting that awaited their teammate as he came off the ice, it was easy to see the respect he had from the boys and how much he fired up the lads.
The veteran hockey man, who was there on assignment and has seen them all, gave me a nudge. He turned to me and said, “You see that, Jude? Now there’s a hockey player.”