By Ryan MacLeod
Most leaf fans can put together a pretty long list of accomplishments stemming from Swedish centre Mats Sundin, but there is a new Swede invading the team’s ranks that I guarantee many know nothing about. That’s none other than prospect defenseman Anton Stralman. The team called him up from the AHL to help fill-in while McCabe is shelved, so now is a better time than any to get to know one of the teams future full-time players.
There was a definite line between the hype and the reality surrounding Stralman as he was introduced by the Leafs to the Toronto media earlier in the year. The smooth-skating 21-year-old rookie even picked up early comparisons to future Hall of Famer Niklas Lidstrom, albeit from the Leafs General Manager.
"If he's (Stralman) 80 per cent of what Lidstrom is, we’re happy … if he's 100 per cent, we're throwing a party," Leafs general manager John Ferguson said.
The Leafs drafted the slick defender 216th overall in the 2005 draft and if you had to compare his game to any current Leaf it would have to be Tomas Kaberle. They are both slight in frame, but have a penchant for rushing the puck or making a great first pass out of the zone.
The one knock on his game is his size. Generously listed at 6'1" and 180 pounds he is on the small side of NHL defenseman, but the Swede feels he is getting better suited for the North American game everyday he's on the ice.
"I have improved almost every aspect in my game. Probably the biggest thing is I’m getting stronger and gaining some weight," said Stralman, at training camp earlier in the year.
He played seven games for the big club earlier in the year and failed to record a point, finishing with a -4 and seven shots on goal. He has 11 points in 21 games for the Toronto Marlies in the AHL this season.
Despite his drawbacks, scouts do project the youngster as a top 4 defender and I have to admit he could look very dangerous on a fledgling leafs power play. And with McCabe gone for about two months we will get a long look at what this kid can do.
It seems leaf's fans always over-estimate the ceiling of their prospects, but this is one player I think deserves a little bit of hype. So that leaves me wondering, what do YOU think of this up and comer?
TEAM NOTES: The Leafs continue their 7 game road trip with a stop in Carolina tonight. It may be our first chance to see Stralman in action since the call-up. It’s expected he will be paired with Pavel Kubina. The Maple Leafs may turn to goaltender Andrew Raycroft for this game since Vesa Toskala, who allowed all seven goals in the first meeting between the teams, is 0-3-0 with a 4.53 goals-against average and .842 save percentage lifetime versus the Hurricanes. Raycroft, though, is not much better with a 3-5-1 record and 2.73 GAA.