Ryan Strome is a center. But ever since his draft day, fans and outsiders alike have pondered the enticing prospect of seeing this talented right-handed shot on John Tavares' wing.
Now during summer prospect mini-camp and training orientation, after two years of Islanders fans alternately penciling him as the second-line center or the first-line winger, Islanders officials acknowledged the possibility. Said coach Jack Capuano, as reported by Brian Compton of nhl.com:
"I talked to Ryan in the exit meetings after the Pittsburgh [playoff] series before he left, and it's something he's pretty comfortable with. But as we move on and see what our depth chart looks like … going into training camp in September, it's a real good possibility that we'll try him there."
You never knew what the Islanders ultimately had in mind with Strome -- and you still don't -- but in part that's because conditions change over time. As a general rule, the best and most versatile (and responsible) players can play center, and any good center should be able to handle wing. But even the best centers often transition to the league first at the wing, which is where Strome had his AHL debut late last season. And even though Moulson puts up 30 goals a year, fans can't help dreaming of another long-term force on that line.
If Strome is a true top-end talent, it works best for the Islanders in the long term if he becomes a center. Except ...
... except if they have enough depth there that his sniping instincts can be utilized on the wing. And system-wise, the Islanders have depth at center; they draft a lot of them. Tavares and Frans Nielsen make a pretty good 1-2 combo, though another top talent would make it a great 1-2-3 arrangement down the middle. Maybe that "3" becomes Brock Nelson, who has more AHL experience than Strome but a lower ceiling. Further down the chart, Casey Cizikas is an NHLer for sure, though maybe not left at wing; Johan Sundstrom impressed in his first AHL season.
What makes Strome an intriguing wing possibility is the "danger" his high-end skill and good skating pose. Picture Nielsen moved to the wing, and you really just limit the capacity of his defensive skills while leaving his offense -- which is more about passing than about shooting -- at status quo. But move Strome to the wing and he is freed up with more opportunities to use his dangerous shot, at least in theory.
All will shake out in time, but if Strome -- who has plenty of AHL eligibility left -- forces his way on the NHL roster this fall, it could be in either position as conditions warrant. (And even if he starts on wing, there is nothing saying he'll stay there.)
On that note, Capuano said something else of note regarding the wing slot next to Tavares and presumably Matt Moulson [emphasis mine]:
"I think it's up for grabs," Capuano said. "Obviously with Bouchard now coming in, a very skilled guy, a little different than [PA] Parenteau and Brad Boyes was there, but there's still a lot of options. I think Garth is still thinking of a few different things, so it's tough for me to say that right now."
As far as offseason moves go, the Isles look like they're done up front, but they might not be. Josh Bailey will probably be signed peacefully and retained, but there could be a wrinkle there. And Snow might just be "thinking of a few different" internal things, but it's still early and the free agent and trade market isn't closed yet.
We've pondered these things for the past two years, and we'll ponder them again all summer. But the time when pondering turns to reality? It's getting closer.