Should We Be Buying Stock in Ryan Strome’s Hot Start?

Ryan Strome has had a solid start to the season. Could he truly be rediscovering his potential after embracing a fresh start?

Ryan Strome is off to one of the best single-season starts of his NHL career with 11 points in 12 games, and it’s high time that something was written about him.

Strome is one of the more interesting citizens of Rangerstown, and is a bit of a lightning rod when it comes to drawing diverse emotions from the fanbase. He joined the team last season in a deal that sent Ryan Spooner to Edmonton, and the Blueshirts by far have been they key beneficiaries of the two player swap. Spooner is out of the NHL, and Strome’s posted a line of 22-22-44 in 75 games since leaving Edmonton.

On its face, that level of production is decent for a player making $3.1 million a season, and the 26-year-old forward is hoping that success continues so he can parlay it into a contract that puts his career back on track, and gives him some long term stability. Strome was an early selection during his draft year, and never fully lived up to the potential he showcased in Junior. This makes his next contract a big one for him, as the longest deal of his career to date was his entry-level contract.

While the counting stats are fine, Strome’s underlying metrics and shooting percentage give cause for concern about whether or not he’s a player the Rangers should consider keeping around. The concern around shooting percentage is rooted in the fact that historically Strome hasn’t been a volume shooter, and if/when his luck turns there’s a good chance the goals will dry up. He’s shooting more this year, 1.66 shots per game vs. 1.26 with the Rangers last year, but the point still stands as the most shots he’s ever taken in a single season is 147.

Shooting percentage concern aside, there are others who feel this is the case of a former top pick remaking themselves in a new market, and he could be a useful piece to keep around. At first blush I don’t agree because I feel like I’ve seen this movie before — as someone who really, really wrong about Spooner — but before making any additional judgments, I wanted to see if Strome is truly starting to re-realize his potential, or if this hot start is a mirage and unsustainable.

One way I thought to do that was by looking at examples of players who were in Strome’s situation, how they started their NHL career, how they performed after being moved to a new team, and how they’ve aged.

Brayden Schenn, St. Louis Blues

Brayden Schenn was selected fifth overall in 2009 by the Los Angeles Kings. Schenn impressed with Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL and posted a line of 60-99-159 in 136 games prior to being drafted. He followed it up with a post-draft season in which he finished with 34 goals and 99 points in just 49 games. The following season he spent eight games with the Kings, tallying just two assists, and he was sent back to the WHL.

Upon returning, he spent just two games with the Wheat Kings before getting traded to the Saskatoon Blades. His season was limited to 27 games regular season games, during which he scored 21 goals and added 32 assists for 53 points. After a playoff run with Blades in which he tallied 11 points in 10 games ended, the Kings’ top prospect was assigned to the AHL. He was a point-per-game player for the Monchaster Monarchs in the regular season, and also added four points in five playoff games. At this point it looked like Schenn was ready to be in consideration for the 2011-12 Kings’ opening night roster, but that ended when he was dealt in a blockbuster deal along with Wayne Simmonds to the Philadelphia Flyers that sent Mike Richards to Hollywood.

Schenn’s start in Philadelphia was slow, and saw him spend time in the AHL and NHL in his first season, but he became a roster regular during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. From that point on he developed into a productive two-way player, and he eventually was dealt to the St. Louis Blues at the 2017 draft. Year one in St. Louis was statistically the best of his career with Schenn tallying 28 goals and 70 points; year two saw him play an important role on a Stanley Cup champion. This season Schenn is off to an amazing start with 10 goals and 14 points in 15 games, and it’s fair to say he’s become a very fine NHL player.

With all of that said, here’s a progression of Schenn from an underlying and production perspective.

5v5 Underlying Metrics

5v5 Offense

All Situations Offense

In the case of Schenn we have a top prospect who was moved by a team looking to transform their roster. He went on to have success in Philadelphia, and they too moved on from him as they made decision on their long term roster due to his proximity to free agency. He has a home in the foreseeable future in St. Louis, and has the chance to have very good overall NHL career. He’s been pretty consistent year-to-year, and simply a good player who got traded and developed over time.

And now that you’ve seen what Schenn has done for himself, here’s a snapshot on how he was projected to perform vs. Strome using Byron Bader’s NHLe tool.

In other words, based on this, Strome was projected to have more success than Schenn, but that obviously didn’t happen.

Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers

Another interesting case to consider is that of current Ranger Mika Zibanejad. Zibanejad joined the Ottawa Senators after being selected sixth overall at the 2011 draft, and would spend nine games with the team before returning to Sweden. He came to North America the following year and started in the AHL due to the lockout. Once play resumed, he joined the main club posting a line of 7-13-20 in 42 games.

The 2013-14 campaign saw Zibanejad skate six games with the Binghamton Senators (2-5-7), and he was an NHL mainstay from that point on, tallying 33 point in 69 NHL games. The next two seasons were Zibanejad’s last in Ottawa, and he posted seasons of 46 and 51 points in in 80 and 81 games respectively.

As many are well aware, he joined the Rangers after the Blueshirts sold high on Derick Brassard, and Zibanejad’s come into his own on Broadway. The stunning Swede has tallied 169 points in 219 games with the Rangers, including 74 in 82 games last season, and 11 in nine games to start the 2019-20 campaign. It is fair to say he’s developed into a player far better than the Senators could have predicted, and the franchise likely wishes they could have a do over on the trade.

5v5 Underlying Metrics

5v5 Offense

All Situations Offense

Now that you’ve seen how Zibanejad has progressed, here’s how he compared to Strome at their time of drafting.

Strome once again looks pretty favorable to Zibanejad, and it’s an even more interesting comparison since they were selected one spot apart. Based on what we’ve seen thus far in their careers, Zibanejad has exceeded expectations whereas Strome had under-performed. Zibanejad has been a better driver of play and offense, and the only reasons his total numbers are low are because he’s had bad injury luck over the years.

Derick Brassard, New York Islanders

I mentioned Derick Brassard before, and he’s another player interesting for a couple of reasons. He was the sixth overall pick of the 2006 draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team that entered the league in 2000. He made his NHL debut as a 20-year-old, but only lasted 17 games. The following season saw an injury that required shoulder surgery limit him to 31 games, and it is a shame since he was playing very well (10-15-25). The next few seasons saw Brassard post average to decent production (36 points in 79 games, 47 points in 74 games, 41 points in 74 games), and things came to a head during the lockout season.

Brassard had 18 points in 34 games, and joined the Rangers in a surprise blockbuster that involved Marian Gaborik heading the other way. The trade appeared to rejuvenate Brassard, as he finished the regular season in New York posting a line of 5-6-11 in 13 games, and a line of 2-10-12 in 12 playoff games.

The remainder of Brassard’s time in NYC was positive, and saw him post season of 45, 60 and 58 points, including a 27-goal campaign in 2015-16. During that same span, “Big Game Brass” added 16 goals and 16 assists in 47 playoff games. The 28-year-old Brassard was then dealt to Ottawa for the aforementioned Zibanejad, and since that time his career has been middling with stops in Pittsburgh, Florida, Colorado and now he’s back in New York with the Islanders. Brassard averaged 0.69 points per game with the Rangers, an increase of 0.14 during his time in Columbus, and since then has averaged 0.48 points per game in 236 games.

5v5 Underlying Metrics

5v5 Offense

All Situations Offense

Now that you’ve seen how Brassard has progressed, here’s how he compared to Strome at their time of drafting.

This is the first example in which a player had some higher projection than Strome, with this example having Brassard expected to take a big leap from D+1 to D+2. That continued in the D+2 to D+3 projection, and ultimately the D1 to D+3 NHLer probability.

Brassard never fully put it together in Columbus, and his time in New York gave a glimpse to what could have been as a player. Had he been a little bit younger when he hit his stride there’s a chance he could have pushed for 70 points at some point, but his career year of 60 points came at age 27, and he’s been in decline ever since. His PDO shows that some is this is him being unlucky whether it be a low shooting percentage or on-ice save percentage, but that’s all part of the game we call hockey. This is something to keep in mind with Strome — a player who had a career high of 50 points at age 21 — whose second-best year of 35 points came last year at age 25.

Kyle Turris, Nashville Predators

The last example can be looked at as a cautionary tale, and that is Kyle Turris. Turris was selected third overall by the Phoenix Coyotes at the 2007 NHL draft. Turris made his debut during the 2007-08 season, and appeared in just three games after leaving the University of Wisconsin.

The following year saw Turris play 63 games, but he finished with a line of 8-12-20. The Coyotes made the decision to keep Turris in the AHL the following season, and he ended the year with 63 points in 76 games. His minor league assignment didn’t translate to NHL success, as the following season he appeared in 65 games, but finished with a line of 11-14-25.

At this point Turris made it clear that he wasn’t happy with the organization, and him and his agent Kurt Overhardt decided not to sign a new contract with the team in an attempt to force a trade. He eventually signed a new deal, appeared in six games with the Coyotes, and was sent to the Senators where he posted 29 point in 49 games.

The next season was the lockout-shortened season, and he matched his output of 29 points from the year prior in 48 games played. Turris then started coming into his own at age 24 & 25 tallying 57 and 64 points in back-to-back seasons, and it looked like he was on the right track. Injuries limited him to 30 points in 57 games in 2015-16, and a healthier Turris ended the 2016-17 campaign with 55 points in 78 games played at age 27.

Turris started the 2017-18 season as a free agent to be, and tallied nine points in 11 games before being dealt to the Nashville Predators who signed him to a six-year, $36 million extension ($6M AAV) upon completing the trade. He had a decent season in Nashville with a line of 13-29-42 in 65 games played, but the following season saw production dip to just 23 points in 55 games. This year he’s tallied eight points in 15 games, but the 30-year-old is just averaging 13:57 a game which is the third fewest minutes of his career. Only his age 19 and 21 seasons were lower.

5v5 Underlying Metrics

5v5 Offense

All Situations Offense

And as the last comparable, here’s Turris’ projected output vs. that of Strome at the time each were drafted.

What is interesting here is that both had the same D-1 to D+3 star probability, pretty much the same draft year NHLer probability, and Strome came in 8% lower in D-1 to D+3 NHLer probability.

The expectations were higher for Turris as a No. 3 pick, and things didn’t work out in Phoenix. He then took some time to get to speed with the Senators, and had a four-year period from age 24 to 27 where he tallied 207 points in 299 games. Since that point he’s posted 82 points in 146 games, or an overall point per game reduction of 0.13.

Ryan Strome, New York Rangers

With all of that said, what about Strome? The New York Islanders selected him fifth overall in 2011, and they expected big things from a player who tallied 106 points in 65 games during his draft year. In his post-draft season he tallied 68 points in 46 games, and his final OHL year saw him post a line of 34-60-94 in 53 games played.

After he made his NHL debut, his initial time with the Islanders was short, and he was sent to the AHL where he posted 49 points in 37 games. The following season things just clicked, as Strome had a career year in which he had 50 points in 81 games; 40 of which came at 5v5. But he never would repeat that performance, and his final two seasons on the Island saw him tally 58 points in 140 games played. His time with the Oilers wasn’t much better, and in 100 games he tallied 36 points. It is for that reason some are inspired by Strome 44 points in just 75 games, and therein lies the reason for this article.

5v5 Underlying Metrics

5v5 Offense

All Situations Offense

So now that you’ve allowed me to layout these comparables, where they were drafted, what they did, and what has become of them as players in the league; what should we make of Strome?

As mentioned before, Strome will be 27 this summer. In my estimation, he’s currently pacing to have a career year in the same way Derick Brassard did, and if we are being generous you could say maybe he could perform like this for an additional year too, but I don’t know if he can shoot the lights out for three seasons in a row. With that in mind, we need to remember that after Brassard’s age 28 season it has been all down hill, and the same is true of Turris who had a run where he paced 56 points a year from age 24 to 27 — though, Strome has been healthier.

Turris’ age 28 season saw him tally 51 points in 76 split between the Senators and Predators, and this season he’s trying to rebound after tallying just 23 points in 55 games as a 29-year-old.

If I were to rank players based on success, I would go Zibanejad, Schenn, Brassard, and Turris. The reason is that Zibanejad’s been the more efficient player when you look at GAR & WAR per 60, in context of what his actuals are in comparison.

While Schenn and Brassard have higher totals, Zibanejad comes out on top in the rate per 60 in a significantly fewer amount of games played. What is also obvious about this is how little Strome has contributed as a player out, and expecting him to do so going forward would be irresponsible.

Looking Ahead

What the Rangers end up doing with Strome will require them to look ahead and try and project a best case scenario. If this season is him fully actualizing his potential, the team’s likely looking at him falling just short of, or exceeding his career high of 50 points. That would put him in a similar spot as Brassard who at age 27 set a career high of 60 points after having a prior career high of 47 points at age 23. He then followed that up with 27 goals and 58 points. And after that things took a turn. Here’s a look at Brassard’s last two years in New York and his first year in Ottawa in the left panel. The two panels next to that are the two years that followed.

Strome had 50 points at age 21, and his next best year was 34 points at age 24, which was then surpassed with 35 points last season. The 26-year-old is on pace for 75 points, but I think we all can agree that isn’t happening, even with Panarin as a linemate. Strome is a free agent at year’s end, and I’d imagine he’s looking for at least $4 million a year, if not more. He’s also going to look for multiple years, because if he has an amazing year he’s going to want to grab as much as he can now.

For this reason the Rangers should let Strome continue to building up value, and then sell high on him like they did Brassard. It is likely that this year — potentially next year — will be Strome’s last “best season”, and it is always better to sell on an asset a year early than it is a year late.

They may be tempted into thinking they have stumbled on something good, like when they got Vlad Namestnikov in the middle of a career year as a part in the Ryan McDonagh deal, or when Ryan Spooner went wild after coming over as a secondary piece in the Rick Nash deal, or when Michael Grabner was not picked by Vegas in the Expansion Draft, and scored 25 goals in 59 games after tallying 27 in 76 the year before.  Even if the Rangers have gotten lucky again, the value will be short lived and quickly outweighed by Strome’s next contract, and therefore should move him at the first sign that his value is on a consistent decline.

Stats via Evolving-Hockey prior to play on November 5, 2019 unless otherwise noted.

Prospect Projections via