There were certainly more immediate concerns for Ryan Strome Tuesday, when the Rangers visited the archrival Islanders at Nassau Coliseum, than reminiscing about his time with the blue-and-orange organization that drafted him fifth overall in 2011.
But, Strome said before the game, he still has some feelings for the Islanders.
"I think it's natural,’’ he said. "I think when you spend four or five seasons there, and a few more seasons in their system, with developmental, and junior, and all that stuff, you're so familiar with the place. I still feel like when the bus rolls up to the Coliseum, it still feels a little bit weird.’’
There’s no time to think about that now, not with the Rangers battling for a playoff spot. Entering Tuesday, they had 11 games remaining, and were four points back of the Boston Bruins, who hold the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Division. Boston has two games in hand.
Anyway, Strome, 27, is a Ranger now. And there’s no confusing the fact that he has been more productive in his three seasons as a Ranger (50 goals, 86 assists in 178 games) than he was with the Islanders (45-81 in 258 games). And this season (14 goals, 30 assists in 45 games entering Tuesday) has been his best to date.
He came to the Rangers from the Edmonton Oilers in November 2018, in a trade for Ryan Spooner. Rangers coach David Quinn used him in various roles that season – right wing, center, on the penalty kill and the power play – and Strome responded with a career-high 18 goals and 15 assists in 63 games.
The Rangers signed free agent Artemi Panarin in the summer of 2019, and Quinn soon decided Panarin and No. 1 center Mika Zibanejad needed to play on separate lines. Strome got to play with Panarin, and he flourished, putting up a career-high 41 assists and 59 points in 70 games in 2019-20.
Many wondered whether those numbers were inflated by playing with Panarin, but Strome has shown this season he can produce, even without Panarin on his left wing. When Panarin took leave of the club in February, after the publication of an article in Russia in which he was accused by a former KHL coach of of hitting a woman in Latvia in 2011, he missed nine games. Strome was a point-per-game player in those games -- four goals and five assists -- with Chris Kreider on his left.
"I think he's made me a better player,’’ Strome said of Panarin. "And listen, he's a great player. I'm lucky to play with him… But at the same time, I think that I've come a long way. I think I've grown in confidence; I think I've learned from my highs and lows. I think I've just continued to try to trek forward and always remember to get better every day, no matter when things are going bad or good in my career.’’
"People talk an awful lot about the fact that he plays with Panarin, but when we got him that first year, he was over a half-a-point-a-game player, did a lot of things for us,’’ Quinn said. "He's been good from the minute he's got here. And he's elevated his game this year as well.’’
Notes & quotes: Quinn stayed with the same lineup he used Sunday, meaning D Anthony Bitetto played a second straight game over Libor Hajek. Julien Gauthier (nine straight games), Phillip DiGiuseppe (eight straight) and D Zac Jones were the other scratches… 2018 first round pick D Nils Lundkvist’s Swedish Hockey League season ended when his Lulea team lost, 3-1, to Skelleftea in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series.