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Dylan Strome looking to build on his game with a big role in Washington

Dylan Strome looking to build on his game with a big role in Washington originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Dylan Strome wasn’t expecting free agency to happen as soon as it did.

The 25-year-old center found out less than a week before NHL free agency opened on July 8 that the Chicago Blackhawks would not be tendering him a qualifying offer, and he had to quickly turn his attention to unrestricted free agency.

Then last Friday, Strome was on a golf course when he heard the Capitals’ offer of one year and $3.5 million. He took it and, in the process, gave a much-needed jolt to Washington’s top six.

“I’m very excited and very fortunate that a team like Washington reached out and I couldn’t be happier to get started,” Strome said on a conference call with media members Tuesday morning.

Strome scored 22 goals and had 26 assists in 69 games last season for the Blackhawks, but with Chicago in full teardown mode it elected not to keep the third overall selection in the 2015 NHL Draft. The Capitals, by desire of their moves this summer, still consider themselves a Stanley Cup contender even if its been four consecutive first-round series losses since winning the title in 2018.

“They obviously have the championship pedigree, I think,” Strome said. “I haven’t played in the playoffs in the NHL — I’m not sure if we count the bubble as playoffs — but got to play a few games there. Obviously there was no crowd so it wasn’t the same. Just everything about their team, the way they play, their style of game, I think it fits into my game really well, and obviously some great wingers to play with as well.”

Should Strome play his natural position up the middle, he would fill the void left by the injured Nicklas Backstrom (hip resurfacing surgery), likely in the top six, and give the Capitals a scoring punch.

It doesn’t hurt that Strome won 52.3% of his faceoffs last season, either. Just one of the regular centers, Nic Dowd, had a percentage above that.

“I think over the last couple of years, I feel like I’ve turned into a little bit more reliable than maybe I was at the beginning of my career defensively,” Strome said. “I was put into some situations last year where I’d take some faceoffs in the defensive zone at key times in games and my faceoff numbers got better last year and (I’m) looking to improve on that this year.”

And considering he’s joining a new team, he has a better feel for Washington’s dressing room than most other free agents might.

He’s worked out with Tom Wilson in the past, and new additions Henrik Borgstrom and Erik Gustafsson were with him in Chicago last season. Strome also spent time with Darcy Kuemper while the two were in Arizona.

Naturally, there’s also the allure of playing with a player of Alex Ovechkin’s status.

“It’s something that obviously you watch as a kid growing up,” Strome said of the Capitals’ captain. “Everyone knows what he can do with his shot. His playmaking ability is also incredible. He’s a superstar and I think it’d be an honor to play with him, just to be on the same team as him. He’s scored a few goals against us in the past and my team in the past, so I’m happy to be on that side of the ice this time.”

No matter who Strome ends up on a line with, the Capitals are hopeful that they’ve found a legitimate top-six center without having to give up anything other than dollars to do so.

If he’s able to keep building with a more talented team in Washington, Strome could add a dimension that the Capitals sorely lacked at the end of last season.

“Obviously it’s not fun when you’re in and out of the lineup and things like that, but I felt like my game’s really going in a good place at the end of last year and the last three-quarters of last year pretty much, Strome said. “I’ll build on that, and (I’m) looking forward to doing that in Washington.”