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Stralman looks to solidify Panthers in front of Bobrovsky

Defenseman joins Connolly, Acciari on revamped Florida roster

by Alain Poupart / Correspondent

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Anton Stralman was not the key signing by the Florida Panthers on the first day of NHL free agency on Monday -- goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who agreed to terms on a seven-year contract, was -- but the Panthers are looking for significant contributions from the 32-year-old defenseman.

In addition to Bobrovsky and Stralman, who agreed to a three-year contract, forward Brett Connolly agreed to terms with Florida on a four-year contract and forward Noel Acciari agreed to a three-year contract. No financial terms were released.

"We really did add a significant group," Florida coach Joel Quenneville, hired April 8, said after a press conference at BB&T Center on Tuesday. "If you look in every single area, we added an important piece to our team, and I think that's going to help us on the back end. … In every instance, the additions really help not just stabilize but add a bunch of depth to our team." 

Stralman, who joined Florida after playing the past five seasons for the Tampa Bay Lightning, could be the Panthers' second-most important addition of the offseason.

Video: Panthers add Bobrovsky, Stralman, Acciari, Connolly

Stralman averaged 21:53 of ice time during his time with Tampa Bay, and his experience will be welcome among a group of young Panthers defensemen that includes Mike Matheson, 25; Ian McCoshen, who turns 24 on Aug. 5; and Aaron Ekblad and Brady Keeper, each 23.

Quenneville said "steadying influence in the back end" was a perfect description for Stralman.

Injuries caused Stralman to miss 35 regular-season games and the Eastern Conference First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a series the Lightning lost in four games. Stralman said he had sports hernia surgery in May but expects to be ready for the start of training camp in September.

"I'm sure I can bring some experience and help this team off the ice a little bit," Stralman said. "I want to help this team more than just on the ice. I gained a lot of experience throughout the years and I played with some great teams and hopefully I can use that experience for the betterment of this team."

Panthers general manager Dale Tallon projected Stralman could be paired with Matheson.

Connolly, selected by the Lightning with the No. 6 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, scored an NHL career-high 22 goals last season for the Washington Capitals while averaging 13:20 of ice time. He was one of two players in the NHL, along with Columbus Blue Jackets forward Oliver Bjorkstrand, to score at least 22 goals averaging less than 14 minutes last season.

Connolly's 46 points were an NHL career high; he scored two goals in seven Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Video: Top 10 plays of 2018-19: Bobrovsky

"You look at his production at even strength [and it] is pretty remarkable in not a lot of time," Quenneville said. "We like to mix up and change lines a bit, but I'm sure that he's going to get a chance to play with everyone this year. Over time we'll know exactly where he's going to fit and who he's going to be with for significant time. He's one of those guys, big shot, right winger that can do a lot of things."

Acciari had 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 72 games with the Boston Bruins last season and four points (two goals, two assists) in 19 playoff games. Boston lost to the St. Louis Blues in seven games in the Cup Final.

The Panthers like the physical element Acciari will bring to their lineup.

"We want that leadership that he brings that we like," Quenneville said. "We like that edge and abrasiveness and that toughness that he's going to provide. Just be Noel out there and play his game and be one of the guys. He's one of the guys that you'll appreciate as a teammate."

Tallon said Monday that Florida pursued forward Artemi Panarin in free agency. When it became apparent the Blue Jackets forward was headed elsewhere -- he agreed to a seven-year contract with the New York Rangers on Monday -- they shifted their focus.

The Panthers were happy with the end result; so were their new players.

"I'm very excited," Acciari said. "Being one game away from a Stanley Cup championship, it's disappointing, but at the same time it puts a fire under you. I'm excited where this team is headed and I want to be a part of it with all these guys."

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