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Stralman on joining Panthers: 'I'm excited to be here for the takeoff'

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

SUNRISE, Fla. - It wasn't long after the NHL's interview period for unrestricted free agents officially opened back on June 23 that Anton Stralman's cellphone lit up and began to buzz.

Waiting on the other end of the line, eager to chat, was the Florida Panthers.

"They called the first day of the interview period," Stralman said. "I was very happy they called. Looking through the league and seeing what teams might call, they were one that I was hoping would call. I thought it could be a good fit, especially with the direction the team is going in."

Just over a week after that call was made, the longtime Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman was putting pen to paper on a three-year deal to join his former team's cross-state rival, bringing with him nearly 1,000 total games of NHL experience, including 104 career playoff appearances.

On Tuesday afternoon, Stralman donned his new Panthers sweater for the first time during an introductory press conference at BB&T Center that also featured the organization's other three free agent signings: goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and forwards Brett Connolly and Noel Acciari.

As it was with the Lightning, Stralman will wear No. 6 with the Panthers.

"I'm very, very excited," Stralman said. "Seeing this team a lot throughout the years, being in Tampa and all, you can see where this team is heading, and it's up. I'm excited to be here for the takeoff. With the acquisitions of Bob, Brett and Noel, too, I think this team can make some big strides in a short amount of time. That's a very exciting thing to be a part of going forward."

Looking at Stralman's career, it's easy to see why the Panthers wasted no time in courting the veteran two-way defenseman. The 32-year-old averaged 21:53 of ice time during his time with Tampa Bay, registering 29 goals and 101 assists during 355 games over those five seasons.

A responsible, steadying presence on the blue line, he's committed fewer than 30 turnovers in each of the last three seasons, despite averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time per game in that span. Since the start of the 2016-17 campaign, his 72 giveaways stand as the fourth-fewest among NHL defenseman that competed in at least 200 contests during that three-year stretch.

In all five seasons Stralman suited up in Tampa Bay, the Lightning also made the playoffs.

Video: Panthers sign Stralman

"Anton's coming from a winning program," Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville said. "His experience and knowledge of playing in different situations only becomes more important as you go along through the season. Come playoff time, it can help some of our younger guys."

In terms of mentoring, Stralman should be a perfect role model for up-and-coming stars such as Aaron Ekblad and Mike Matheson, who are entering their sixth and fifth seasons, respectively. Prior to the signing, Keith Yandle was the only member of Florida's defensive corps over age 30.

"They're all really, really great players, first and foremost" Stralman said. "I don't know if I can teach them much. They can probably teach me a couple things. Just to use that experience, I think that can be helpful, especially come playoff time, with the added pressure, both from fans and expectations, but even more-so from yourself. That's something that you can learn."

Ekblad said Stralman's arrival will have a "huge" influence on the team's defenseman.

"I've had some great defenseman to learn from at all stages of the game," said Ekblad, who turned 23 in February. "They were battled tested. They'd won, they'd lost. They had a lot of great insights about hockey and about life. Obviously Anton's going to have that affect on me and players that were in a situation like I was in four or five years ago coming into the league.

"It's a great opportunity. Whether it's Q [Quenneville] or Dale [Tallon] or anyone, I'm always a sponge to those guys. It's going to be great to hear about the trials and tribulations of Stralman and then try to incorporate some of the really good things he's done with his game into my own game."

After missing 35 regular-season games and the playoffs last season due to injury, Stralman, who had appeared in at least 73 regular-season games in each of the four previous seasons before that bump in the road, said he's fully healthy and ready to get to get started with Florida.

And having already come close to winning the Stanley Cup twice in his career, reaching he final in 2014 with the New York Rangers and in 2015 with the Lightning, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound native of Tibro, Sweden hopes that he will soon finally hoist it over his head with the Panthers.

"I think the closer you get, the more itchy it becomes," Stralman said. "Being there twice and losing, it's hard, but also it keeps you motivated. When I experienced that feeling of emptiness afterwards, that drives you. I think this team has a bright future… It's going to be a fun ride."

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