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Off-season Observations: Anton Stralman

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

With the opening of training camp still a month away, we thought it would be timely to look back at last year’s offseason additions. The Lightning acquired six players in 2014 before the start of the 2014-15 season: Jonathan Marchessault, Jason Garrison, Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle, Evgeni Nabokov and Brenden Morrow. Additionally, Braydon Coburn joined the Lightning late in a trade deadline deal that added depth and stability to the blue line. We’ll review each move individually and analyze their impact on Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup Final playoff run.

Anton Stralman, defenseman

Age: 29

Measurables: 5-foot-11, 190 pounds

Acquired: Signed as a free agent on July 1, 2014, to a five-year deal

What was said then: Words like “solid”, “reliable” and “underrated” were bandied about when Stralman was inked hours after the free agency period opened. The then-27 year old was coming off a strong performance in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the New York Rangers, who passed on re-signing Stralman after three productive but under-the-radar seasons in the Big Apple. The Lightning pounced on the Rangers’ disinterest, signing Stralman in the hopes of pairing him with fellow Swede Victor Hedman as the No. 1 blue line option.

2014-15 stats: 10 goals, 38 assists (48 points) and plus-23 in 108 games (playoffs included).

2014-15 impact: Quite possibly, Stralman was the steal of free agency.

The Ironman among the Tampa Bay defensemen having played every regular season and playoff game, joining Valtteri Filppula, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos as the only Bolts to do so, Stralman set career highs for goals (9), assists (30), points (39) and plus-minus (plus-22) during the 2014-15 regular season. He led all Bolts blue liners in assists and points.

Stralman’s partnership with budding superstar Victor Hedman might have been the best defensive pairing in the NHL.

Stralman displayed a calm demeanor and poise with and without the puck that provided the blue line with the veteran leadership it previously lacked. He seemingly always made the right play, not necessarily the flashy or fancy one.

Stralman was the glue to the Lightning defense. When Hedman went down with an injury early in the season and Jason Garrison was hurt late, Stralman shouldered the extra burden without flinching and kept the Bolts back line from floundering.

The Lightning finished the regular season in the upper half of the league (12th) for goals allowed, cutting their per game goals against to 2.51 from 2.55 in 2013-14 and 3.06 in 2012-13. Stralman was a key contributor in Tampa Bay’s continued defensive improvement.

2015-16 outlook: Stralman has advanced to the Stanley Cup Final each of the past two seasons.

Here’s hoping that streak continues in 2015-16.

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper repeatedly said last season Anton Stralman would never win the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman.

But his partner will.

Hedman emerged as one of the league’s preeminent blue liners during the postseason and enters the 2015-16 season as a viable candidate to win the first Norris in Lightning franchise history.

Coincidence?

We think not.

Behind Stralman’s steadiness, Hedman has been able to increase his role in the offensive zone. Hedman accounted for 14 points (1 goal, 13 assists) during the postseason, ranking tied for sixth on the Lightning.

Look for Hedman to boost his offensive productivity in the coming season as his partnership with Stralman continues to grow.

And look for Stralman to steadily go about his business as one of the more underrated players in all of the National Hockey League.

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