GLENDALE, Ariz. - Ryan Strome has joined the Islanders, but his NHL debut will wait until Saturday, when they return home to play the Montreal Canadiens.
The Islanders are going the cautious route with their top prospect. Strome got on the ice with the Islanders Thursday morning here but was held out of the lineup for Thursday night's game against the Coyotes -- even though the Isles are in desperate need of offense outside their top line and Strome is coming off back-to-back AHL Player of the Week awards.
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"We wanted to get him in here, get acclimated to our meetings, have some time to sit down with him," coach Jack Capuano said. "The AHL is a good league, but this is a big difference up here."
John Tavares took Strome out to dinner on Wednesday night, a reunion of the two frequent summer workout buddies. Strome has seen Tavares as a mentor since the Islanders drafted Strome fifth overall in 2011 -- both Toronto products came through the Marlboros minor hockey program -- and having Strome back with the captain could be another boost to Strome's development.
"He's chomping at the bit to get going," Tavares said. "It's been great to see him grow as a player, see how he's been tearing it up in the minors."
Strome, 20, got a taste of the pro hockey life at the end of last season, when his junior career with Niagara of the Ontario League finished and he joined Bridgeport for the final 10 games of the AHL regular season.
This season, he never really had a shot to crack a veteran group of forwards in Islanders training camp and went to Bridgeport. After he and the Sound Tigers got off to slow starts, Strome turned up his game in the last two weeks, producing five goals and 12 assists in eight games to earn weekly honors and the call-up.
"It's a credit to my linemates, Halms [Mike Halmo] and Anders Lee," Strome said. "We were really clicking, playing well in our own zone to get our offense going . . . It sounds a little cheesy, but we were playing the right way, starting in our own zone and working from there."
Play away from the puck is one of the toughest aspects of making the transition from juniors, college and the AHL to the NHL. Lee, another heralded Islanders prospect, joined the team last spring after a decorated college career at Notre Dame but got into only two games with the Isles.
Lee had a goal and an assist in those two games but missed a few defensive assignments and has been in Bridgeport all season. Capuano stressed that side of play to Strome in their talk on Wednesday, when both the team and Strome arrived here.
"He's going to help us, no question," Capuano said. "With his skill set, he brings something that's been lacking. But there's a way he needs to play up here."
Strome is willing to be patient. He is an excitable young man and has had a hard time through his three Islanders training camps in containing his desire to make the team.
Now that he's here, he doesn't want to leave any chance that it won't work out.
"This is the first step," Strome said. "You don't want a cup of coffee. You want to stick."