DENVER — Ryan Strome is working to not be that guy anymore:
The one veteran Islanders forward whom Jack Capuano pulls from the lineup when things aren’t going well. The player who doesn’t expect the game to come to him. The one who takes a solid stretch of games (as Strome has had of late) and builds on it rather than sagging back to the frustrating inconsistency that’s marked the last season and a half for the talented 23-year-old.
Strome entered Friday night’s game against the Avalanche with four goals and three assists in his last eight games. That stretch followed one of the worst of his young career, when he had one point in 18 games and was a healthy scratch twice.
“The break’s good for the body, but when you’re on a little heater, you want to keep it going,” Strome said of the Isles’ five-day break that just ended. “The one thing I’ve definitely learned is to not get complacent. You’ve got to push every day and continue to get better. No complacency in my game right now, and when you’re hungry, you see results, not just for me but a couple other guys, too. We know where we think we can be lately, and it’s a good feeling.”
Part of what jump-started Strome’s season was moving to the middle of the fourth line, between Nikolay Kulemin and Cal Clutterbuck when Casey Cizikas went down in the Dec. 15 loss to the Blackhawks with an upper-body injury. Strome handled that assignment well and followed up with a goal and assist when Cizikas returned last Saturday in Winnipeg and Strome was switched to the right side with Shane Prince and Brock Nelson.
“Playing with Kulie and Clutter kind of simplified it a little bit. Now that I’m on a line with guys who like to make plays, we’ve got to take advantage of that,” Strome said. “We did last game and we’ve just got to keep it going.”
Ever since the Islanders made Strome the fifth overall pick in the 2011 draft, it seems that tough love has been the way the organization has gone with him. He had a mediocre training camp before the 2014-15 season and Capuano made a rare public declaration that the then-21-year-old was in danger of missing the cut.
Strome went on to produce a 50-point season. Since then, he hasn’t responded as well to the occasional public reprimand or even the three-week demotion to Bridgeport he received in November 2015.
Even with the recent hot streak, Strome has only 41 points since the start of the 2015-16 season. His ice time is down to 14:12 per game this season, and that’s with regular turns on the top power-play unit. His even-strength average of 11:22 per game is second-lowest on the team.
But he remains upbeat, even as he gets juggled from line to line, from center to wing. “One thing I’ve learned is the need to be versatile, playing all over the lineup, and it’s something I actually enjoy now,” he said. “On a new line with some young guys, we should be energetic and make the most of our opportunities.”