This year has taught the Rangers a lot so far. It has shown that the Rangers still have work to do. It has also proven that Artemi Panarin is worth every dollar the Rangers are paying him. But maybe the biggest lesson we’ve learned so far is that simply put, Ryan Strome is actually pretty good.
Jeff Gorton is a good general manager. For a while now, many have regarded the trade for Mika Zibanejad as one of the best in Rangers history. And while that is still likely the best acquisition Gorton has made, the trade he orchestrated for Strome is starting to look better by the day.
The Rangers sent over Ryan Spooner for Strome. Spooner ended up playing for three teams that season and had an AHL stint. He then went to play hockey internationally. Strome, however, has gotten consistently better under David Quinn’s tutelage. He was not productive in Edmonton but started making immediate impacts for the Rangers.
Before being traded, Strome had scored only two points in 18 games with the Oilers. That was good for a measly .11 points per game. He was then traded and played 63 games with the Blueshirts while scoring 33 points. He went from .11 points per game with Edmonton to .52 points per game with the Rangers.
Let’s prorate those numbers. Had he played all 82 games with the Oilers last season, he would’ve scored barely over nine points. Had he played all 82 games with the Rangers he would’ve scored about 43 points. Clearly he needed a change of scenery and improved within the Rangers developmental style.
So how about this year? Well, it would take some serious tuning out to not notice how good of a season Strome has been having. He has scored 35 points in 38 games, which translates roughly to .92 points per game. That puts him on pace to score almost 76 points this season. Additionally, Strome is averaging a higher face-off win percentage this season than at any other point during his career so far. This is especially significant given the Rangers inadequacies on face-offs this season.
A lot of people have attributed these stats to playing alongside Artemi Panarin. This is true to an extent but I also have an issue with this notion. First off, lines are not made up of two people. There is always another player on the other side of Strome and opposite Panarin, and no one else has had this kind of sustained success with Panarin. It is definitely helping him, but Strome is really just playing that well. Also, it is important to recognize that Strome didn’t start playing with Panarin until a week or two into the season, yet Strome was still productive.
What has been so impressive about Strome is his consistency. Strome has never gone more than two games without scoring a point. He has only had two scoreless games in a row three times this season. He has scored at least one point in 24 of the Rangers 38 games so far, which amounts to scoring in 63% of games played. He also has nine multipoint games so far. The most recent was the most impressive of these, as he scored four points in the Rangers 5-4 overtime win versus the Maple Leafs.
The Rangers traded a struggling bottom-six forward for a centerman who is flourishing before our eyes. Remember, Strome was a fifth overall selection for the Islanders several years ago. He has always had talent, it was just a matter of it translating consistently to the NHL.
Coming into this season, it seemed like Strome’s time with the Blueshirts was ticking. He was not seen by most to be a permanent piece of the future and was widely regarded as February trade capital. This narrative has changed.
The Rangers seemed to be in desperate need of a second line center, with the jury still out on Filip Chytil (at the beginning of the season). With a pace of .92 points per game, I believe the Rangers have found their second line center.
Good centers can be exceptionally difficult to find. Competent centers aren’t that rare, but truly good centers are. Some of the biggest stars in the game right now play the center position. In addition, the Rangers have had a tough time with the position. Employing a tandem of Derek Stepan and Derrick Brassard was good enough for a while. But this one-two punch of Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Strome has been the only reason not named Panarin for why this team is where they are in the standings.
You pay your good players. You keep them around. While Strome wasn’t seen as a long-term option several months ago, it’d be mind-boggling not to consider that he might be one now. I know we have prospects, highly touted ones at that, but you don’t trade away a 70-plus point scoring center because you have prospects who may (or may not) be good.
Jeff Gorton has his work cut out for him with several players needing new contracts. But if there is one move for certain that he should make, it would be extending Strome.
The ideal contract for Strome would be for two or three years. That would reduce the damage if it turns out I’m dead wrong and Strome is not consistently good. It would also allow them to move on from him if we have younger prospects rise from the ranks and render him expendable. However, given the kind of season he is having, we are looking at most likely a four or five year extension.
Strome would likely command between $5 million and $6 million. Worse centers are signed for more but Strome is still somewhat unproven, since this has been one year of good play. But any way you put it, a five year deal at $5.5 million for a 70 plus point centerman would be asinine to reject from a GM’s standpoint.
Ryan Strome has completely changed the way the Rangers and Rangers fans view him. In just over a year, he has gone from a recently acquired project to, believe it or not, one of the highest scoring centers in the league. It may complicate things a bit, but Strome has proven his worth. It’s time to pay up.