As Rangers fans, we all know the players that make us “bleed blue.” Guys like Ryan Callahan, Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, Henrik Lundqvist, and the list goes on and on. They inspire us, invigorate us, and yes, make us cry and rip our hearts out. But when you start getting towards the bottom of that list, do you know who Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore, Derek Dorsett, Daniel Carcillo, Justin Falk, etc. are? These are the Unsung Rangers, players who do the grunt work to make others around them look better and stand out. They don’t always receive the recognition, they justly deserve. But, I feel, most are fine with that. As long as the team succeeds and accumulates wins for the Ranger Faithful, the ends justify the means!
One such player, and a growing favorite of mine, is Anton Stralman. “Stralsy” as some like to nickname him, is a quiet, yet effective defenseman you should take notice of. Listed at 5’11 and weighing in at 190 lbs., he is not an intimidating figure. He plays on the right side of Marc Staal as the 2nd defensive pairing under head coach Alain Vigneault. He is a right-handed shot, adding offensive talent with defensive awareness. He plays on the penalty kill, so Vigneault feels he is responsible enough to take on an opposing team’s power play unit. But who is Anton Stralman and where does he come from?
Anton Stralman hails from the small town of Tibro, Sweden; 9 hours south of fellow countryman and teammate Henrik Lundqvist’s hometown of Are. The population boasts a little over 10,100 citizens. Growing up, he was surrounded by hockey. From his grandfather down to his brothers, Stralman had plenty of inspirations to follow his dream as a hockey player. As a result of his hard work, Stralman realized his dream when the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted him. He was chosen 216th overall in the 7th round of the 2005 NHL draft. He has become one of three athletes that come from Tibro. In his player webpage, www.stralman.com, he expressed his feelings about his hometown and the realization of his dream.
“Coming from a small town and without any real role models before me, obviously I had other role models, but not from (Tibro, Sweden). It makes it really exciting knowing that I took the first steps for a bunch of kids who can hopefully do the same thing.”
As a teenager, Stralman saw much success. By the age of 16, he had already participated in his first national championship. Later he elevated his game by joining Skovdke IK. In Sweden, Svodke is a city where aspiring hockey players go to further their craft. This turned out to be a great decision for Stralman’s development. It became a measuring stick for him to compare his skill set with others his age. Also, it would be a factor in taking his game to a higher level. In order to play with the Skovde, he had to travel 14 miles, each way, from Tibro. Most individuals choosing to join Skovdke leave home; living away from family and friends. Not Stralman. He chose to live with his family while commuting by bus. That’s dedication.
Even though his dream was to be a hockey player, he did think about an alternative career. While in school, his studies concentrated on the medical field. His hope was to either be an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) or, every little boy’s dream, a firefighter. However, when he wasn’t studying, he was on the ice, working on his craft to be a hockey player.
After Skovde, he was invited to join Team Sweden in 2004. There he participated in several international tournaments. Soon after, in 2005, the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted the Swedish defenseman. However, Stralman decided to stay in Sweden to continue working on his skills. For the next 2 seasons, Stralman was at his most productive. As a member of the Timra Red Eagles, a Swedish hockey team in the Hockey Allsvenskan league, he played 45 games and was a finalist for the league’s rookie of the year award. This league is the second highest level of competition behind the Swedish Hockey League, formally known as the Swedish Elite League. In the 2006-2007 season, Stralman had his most productive season, putting up 10 goals and 11 assists in 53 games. As a result of his efforts, Stralman was named to that year’s All-Star team. Soon after, he signed his first NHL contract with the organization that originally drafted him, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He played 88 games with the Leafs, but shuffled back and forth with their AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. After two seasons, Stralman was traded to the Calgary Flames in 2009. However, his situation did not improve. Calgary’s defense was already stout with players, at that time. Prominent names such as Dion Phaneuf, Jay Boumeester, Mark Giordano, Cory Sarich, and Adrian Aucoin, dominated their blue line already. This made things tough for Stralman to crack the lineup. Rather than lose him to waivers if sent down, the organization traded the Swedish defenseman to the Columbus Blue Jackets, in exchange for a 3rd round pick in the 2010 NHL draft. In his first season with the team, Stralman posted personal bests in playing games 73 and posting 23 assists for 34 points. During his playing time, he was paired with Fedor Tyutin. His role was to be an offensive defenseman and to quarterback the power-play. After two seasons in Columbus, he became a free agent. He signed a tryout-contract with the New Jersey Devils, but was disappointed when he did not make final roster. Being a firefighter looked more and more realistic. However, the New York Rangers entered the picture. He and the organization were able to agree to a one year contact. After the 2011-2012 season, Stralman resigned with the Rangers for another two years, which coincidentally, ends at the end of this season.
Stralman has proven to be an asset to the Rangers. He offers stability, veteran leadership, and dependability. He skates with a fluid, effortless motion. He is calm under pressure and has soft hands when handling the puck. He’s not explosive and does not have violent turns up ice or change of direction. However, he is defensively responsible in front of Lundqvist (18 penalty minutes), and does not take unnecessary risks in the offensive zone. To this date, his offensive numbers are nothing to brag home about. Through 53 games played, he has posted no goals and 6 assists, with a -4 rating. Which is considerably lower than to what he has become accustomed. Perhaps this is due to his role being changed under Vigneault’s system. Stralman is being used on penalty kill situations. This may have limited his offensive numbers. However, when called upon, he can provide his scoring touch. On Sunday’s Stadium Series game, he contributed with two assists and a + 4 rating against the New Jersey Devils. Not to be forgotten, Stralman sparked one of the Rangers’ 7 goals, by delivering a devastating blue line check on New Jersey Devils defenseman Andy Greene. Even the NBC networks recognized his efforts. Here is a YouTube clip of the goal, in case you missed it:
So on Wednesday, take a glance at “Stralsy” when he’s on the ice. He will be wearing the number 6 jersey and partnering with Staal. You may be surpised at what you will see. But not just this game, but for the rest of the season, keep an eye out on him. He may grow on you, as he has on myself.