Evidently, the New York Islanders don't want to make the same mistake with Ryan Strome as they did with Nino Niederreiter. Niederreiter was also a No. 5 pick in the draft to New York, and after scoring 41 goals in 55 games with Portland and getting nine games of experience in the National Hockey League in 2010-11, the franchise decided to keep him aboard for the 2011-12 season rather than sending him back to junior for another year.
Niederreiter's season could not have gone worse. He played just 55 games, scoring a single goal and missing time due to a groin injury and a concussion. He was plagued by bad shooting luck, which kept his point totals remarkably low for such a highly-touted rookie.
Thursday, in quite surprising fashion, the Islanders sent Strome back to the Niagara IceDogs, despite scoring 22 goals in 32 games this season. He's also played with the IceDogs in two deep playoff runs and has two years experience on Canada's National U-20 team. That's not good enough to make a team that was 25th in both wins and goals scored last season.
That all comes per Arthur Staple of Newsday, but it's limited in the explanation given for the roster decision from coach Jack Capuano or manager Garth Snow. Teams had until Friday to return players to their junior clubs or they will be required to put them on the 23-man roster. From there, five games played in the NHL and they will "burn" one of the years of the entry-level contracts. The Islanders also cut Edmonton Oil Kings' defenceman Griffin Reinhart:
Reinhart is no surprise, but an argument could be made for using Strome on this roster. (Still, his placement on the bottom lines in camp hinted that he wasn't in the plans for 2013.) Even though Strome probably wasn't earning a top-six spot on this season's roster, had they kept him they could have used him in a secondary scoring role and to add some talent to the lower lines and powerplay help. [Lighthouse Hockey]
This is excellent news for Niagara (and Edmonton) albeit a curious one that highlights the lack of a transitional league for 18- and 19-year-old players who are too good for the major junior ranks but can't forget an NHL spot. Because of his exceptional status as an NHLer last season, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was able to spend the lockout in the American Hockey League with the Edmonton Oilers' farm affiliate in Oklahoma City rather than return to the Red Deer Rebels. He played well until leaving for Team Canada camp, scoring 20 points in 19 games, and it was an experience more valuable to him than dominating in the Western League for a half season.
Strome is in a similar situation, albeit not an exceptional one since he was returned to Niagara for last season. He scored 30 goals and 68 points in 46 games, doing more in less than time than anybody in that league except for perhaps Brandon Saad and Ivan Telegin, both a year older. This season, Strome is 4th in the OHL in points, ahead of Alex Galchenyuk, despite missing 12 games due to his international commitments. There is nothing left for him to prove at the OHL level, although the Ice Dogs certainly would love to see him return and help them compete in the wide-open Eastern Conference.
The team also got reinforcements from Dallas, as Brett Ritchie returned to practice from Stars camp Thursday. Their third junior-age player, Dougie Hamilton, is sticking around in Boston Bruins camp and is considered to be in contention to make that team. The return of Ritchie and Strome, though, should provide reinforcements to a Niagara group that has been without the pair since December 7 (although Ritchie did score a goal in a game against Owen Sound on January 10). The IceDogs have won just four times since Strome's departure and have been outscored by a 31-50 margin.
Other big name junior players sent down to their respective junior clubs include Boone Jenner, from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Oshawa Generals and Cody Ceci from the Ottawa Senators to the Owen Sound Attack. Ceci has had a fun week, travel-wise after his trade to Owen Sound. Since then he's played games in Erie and Niagara, has reported to the Senators, and will re-join his team on the midst of an Eastern road swing that will take the team, surprise surprise, through Scotiabank Place to face his former 67s team.