You could forgive the new Hamilton Bulldogs’ OHL franchise for hoping – at least when it comes to drafting Stromes – that the third time truly is the charm. After all, considering the success older brothers Ryan and Dylan have had in the OHL, there is plenty of anticipation and expectation for 16-year-old Matthew.
Ryan was selected fifth overall in the 2011 NHL Draft by the New York Islanders. This past June, Dylan was selected third overall by the Arizona Coyotes after leading the OHL in scoring during the 2014-15 season. Matthew Strome, who is eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft, enters this campaign on a newly relocated franchise. He knows people will have expectations based solely on the name on the back of his jersey, but he both ignores it and embraces it for positive results.
“It’s not too much [pressure],” Strome said. “I mean, it’s always in the back of my head, but when the game starts I just try to block my name out of it.
“But it’s also good to have it back there in the back of my mind also as a positive thing.”
The youngest Strome was selected eighth overall by the Bulldogs (formerly the Belleville Bulls) after leading his team to the OHL Cup championship. He scored 60 points in 64 games last season with the Toronto Marlboros. Strome has already noticed a change in the caliber of competition during the preseason and early going of the regular season.
“[The transition] has been pretty good. The preseason games were a bit different, I had to get used to the speed,” he said. “Speed and strength are the biggest differences. But working out at home this summer back in Mississauga, I really got prepared for the strength, so that helped me a lot.”
His coach said the name on the back of Strome’s jersey may draw added interest, but it hasn’t brought any additional baggage, expectations, or attitude.
“My job as a coach is to put him in situations where he can succeed. I think he embraces the challenges that are ahead of him,” explained Bulldogs’ head coach and general manager George Burnett. “I think having brothers that have been through it can only help him. Sure, there may be some expectations there, but he’s grounded, his parents are very grounded. They know this is a process and there’s no rush, and I think Matthew’s going to be just fine.”
Burnett said that Strome has bought into what the Bulldogs are trying to do, both on and off the ice.
“He knows that every part of his game has to get better. I don’t think he’s taking anything for granted,” said the coach. “He’s not a loud, cocky young man. He’s very respectful and well-mannered. He’s represented us in the community already as his home is only 20 minutes away in Mississauga.”
The proximity of Hamilton to Strome’s hometown of Mississauga has also helped the transition.
“Whenever I miss parents or friends and family, they can just take a 30-minute stretch [of highway] down to see me,” Strome said. “It’s nice to be home, but it’s also nice to be away.”
And, back home during the summer, the youngest Strome got some work and training in to help him prepare for the coming season. Having two NHL-drafted brothers helped the process.
“We trained together in the summer,” Strome said. “I skated with them a couple of times during the summer and it’s good to see where they are, so that I know what I have to do to make it where they are.”
The older brothers also imparted some OHL wisdom to their youngest brother.
“They said if you’re having a bad game, don’t worry about the last shift, just focus on the next shift,” Strome said. “And if you had a bad game, don’t worry about it. Just focus on having a good practice the next day and focus on the next game.”
At 6’3” and 190 pounds, Strome has good size, but plenty of room to fill out as he gets older. In the meantime, he wants to ensure that he effectively uses the size he already has.
“I want to work on just using my body right now and getting in there first on the forecheck,” Strome said. “I want to use my size to make havoc down low and just get the puck to the net.”
Burnett said he sees Strome growing into a leadership role on the club in the future – especially based on his early returns.
“He’s got dynamite skills and we’re already seeing leadership-type qualities that he possesses,” Burnett said. “We saw that last year at the OHL Cup club championship – he was the leader of that team. I think he’s on the right path.”
And now the question that may take years to answer: which Strome brother is the best? At the very least, as evidenced by his answer, Strome has NHL-caliber diplomacy down pat.
“I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I think we’re all up there,” he said. “I mean, both Dylan and Ryan in their first years had a good year and I’m just trying to follow up on what they did in my first year.
“It’s hard to say. No, I think we’re all equal at the same time.”
Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @