Should Ryan Strome Start in the AHL or NHL?

Kevin Schultz

Ah yes, it’s that time of year again. The weather is getting cooler, summer has passed us by, and people are debating where the top Islanders prospect should start the season…

This year’s prospect du jour is Ryan Strome, who will be joining the Sound Tigers this fall, if not the Islanders. After four years in junior, the 2011 first-round pick is ready for the pro game. He got a taste of the AHL last spring during a 10-game PTO with the Sound Tigers where he looked more than up to the task, totaling seven points in those 10 games on Bridgeport’s top line.

So where should Strome skate in October? Is he ready to debut on Long Island on October 5th, or should the Islanders take it slowly and call him up at mid-season or even as late as next year?

Boston Bruins v New York Islanders - Rookie Game

The way the roster stands right now there appears to be 13 forwards already on it. There are 12 forwards who would require waivers to be sent down, and the one who doesn’t is Casey Cizikas who will almost certainly be sticking with the team. So, at most, we’re looking at one roster spot open for forwards or maybe two, if the Islanders decide to cut, say, Eric Boulton (probably not going to happen, otherwise they wouldn’t have re-signed him).

Like it or not, unless Strome is absolutely beasting most of the roster during camp, he’ll end up in AHL. In that case, he needs to be the first call up when it comes to injuries, etc. He’s likely ready for the pro game, and as LHH pointed out this morning, players in his position get the opportunity to prove themselves in the NHL after training camp 92% of the time.

I also thought that putting Strome in the AHL would nearly be unprecedented. My sense was that high end forward prospects with no glaring holes in their game who continue to progress after they are drafted nearly always make the NHL roster within a year or two of their draft year.

To check whether this impression was correct, I looked at all top 10 forward draft picks since the 2000 Entry Draft to determine how many were not given a spot on their NHL team’s opening roster by their 3rd post draft season…

As it turns out, out of 80 draftees [that fit the criteria], only 6 players failed to make their team’s NHL roster in their third post draft year. In addition, not one of these 6 players matched Strome’s level of production in Juniors and most encountered significant issues in their development after they were drafted.

At the point Strome is at, the overwhelming majority of top-10 picks make their respective teams out of training camp. The ones that don’t are the ones that have injury set backs or whose stock falls after the draft thanks to poor production. So going by the general practice in the NHL, Strome should be on the team.

If he doesn’t make the team out of camp, and again based on the roster situation there’s good reason to think he won’t, the Islanders should still make an effort to bring him into the fold sometime this season. While the player can certainly learn the franchise’s system and get used to the pro game in the AHL — all things that will be beneficial — he’s likely a good enough student where that won’t take him 80 AHL games to figure out.

But there’s one other benefit to him not starting the season in the NHL; he won’t be directly under the spotlight. There won’t be pressure from the fans and, er, media to make a good first impression. Mid-season call ups don’t usually face the same hype.

Strome is likely to begin the year in the AHL, but there’s certainly a strong case to be made to put him in the NHL from Day One. The situation doesn’t seem to be clear cut one way or the other, although the general school of thought around the NHL is that players of Strome’s talent and age are ready for the big show at this point in their careers.




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