OSHAWA, Ont. â€” Hamilton Bulldogs forward Matt Strome wanted to improve his skating skills for his second season in the Ontario Hockey League. He worked with renowned skating coach Barb Underhill over the summer and the results soon followed.
“He is (getting better) because he’s getting stronger and that’s only going to improve,” said head coach John Gruden. “The one thing with Matthew is he’s so smart so he can make up for it with his hockey IQ. He just knows how to find a way and he hasn’t even scratched the surface.”
The additional work has helped Strome post some impressive numbers this season. He has a team-leading 28 goals and 44 points in 48 games, a noticeable jump from the 16 goals and 38 points he posted over 61 games in his rookie campaign.
“He’s a very intelligent player,” said Gruden, who coached 53 games last season with the Flint Firebirds before joining the Bulldogs. “He’s maturing, he’s becoming a leader and for a kid who still hasn’t grown into his body, he’s just a great kid to coach.”
Underhill, meanwhile, has worked as a skating instructor with several NHL clubs. The two-time Olympic figure skater, who won a world pairs title with Paul Martini in 1984, also helped Auston Matthews prior to his rookie season with the Maple Leafs.
“I know that I have to work on (my skating), and I’m going to work extra hard to do that,” said Strome, who added that Underhill has helped him with his stride and edges.
Strome, a six-foot-three 203-pounder, is expected to be selected in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft this June in Chicago. He attended the draft days of older brothers Ryan (New York Islanders) and Dylan (Arizona Coyotes) to soak in the experience.
The three are in regular communication through a group chat on their phones during the season and Matt is always taking in his brothersâ€™ advice.
“Just to stay humble,” the youngest Strome said of the guidance. “I think whether you have a bad game or you have a great game, don’t get too ahead of yourself or don’t get too hard on yourself.”
Strome, who tries to model his game after Anaheim’s Corey Perry, uses his size to his advantage and is able to muscle opponents off the puck. His excellent hockey sense helps him know where to be on the ice.
Gruden has Strome on the Bulldogsâ€™ first power-play unit. The 18-year-old has an impressive shot and is always a threat to score.
“He’s a little different from his brothers, he’ll get on pucks, he’s not afraid to mix it up a little bit,” Gruden said. “I think he’s going to be a first-rounder. I think if he falls out of the top 20, someone’s making a mistake.”
Strome, a native of Mississauga, Ont., was ranked 19th among North American skaters in the latest NHL Central Scouting list.
Dhiren Mahiban, The Canadian Press