March 5th will be a significant date for Anton Stralman.
He's going to be re-inserted into the Leafs' lineup, and finally serve the role he was intended to grasp as an offensive defenseman in the NHL.
That is, if Burke can manage to dislodge Kaberle and/or Kubina from the lineup.
It's currently unclear whether the duo of defensemen have a long-term future with the Leafs. While Burke claims he won't ask neither of the defensemen to waive their NTC's, I have a feeling this story will pick up some heat as the days inch closer to the Trade Deadline - especially when considering Burke's no-holds-barred attitude.
If either Kubina or Kaberle are subtracted from the lineup, do not expect an AHL defenseman like Jamie Sifers to fill the offensive void - especially if it's Kaberle who's booted out the door. Unless an offensive defenseman is headed to the Leafs on March 4th - which is a possibility considering the Jay-Bo rumours that have been swirling - Stralman will finally get his chance to perform as one of the go-to guys on the PP.
And it's about friggin' time!
No disrespect to Kaberle, who has been a force on the PP (fun fact: Kaberle rhymes with powerplay) during his tenure with the Buds, but it's time to pass the torch. Stralman will have big shoes to fill, but it only makes sense to let him adapt with the rest of his teammates, who are each establishing their respective roles on creating a competitive Leafs team for the future.
Taking a glimpse at Stralman's production at the NHL level leaves a little to be desired considering his success in the past – once being compared to Nik Lidstrom.
But let's dwell a little deeper into the subject, shall we?
Here are Stralman's point totals during the 07-08 season:
50 GP, 3 G, 9 PTS, 12:48 TOI
Now, let's take a look at the 08-09 season:
21 GP, 1 G, 7 PTS, 15:51 TOI
An increase of just over three minutes of ice-time allowed Stralman to nearly match his point totals of last season in less than half the games. While his point production is low to begin with, it still serves as an indicator that Stralman is indeed coming along. Slowly... but surely.
If Stralman were to be appointed on the 1st PP unit, his development in the NHL would take a significant step forward. Since his arrival with the Buds, the Swedish-born defenseman has not been used effectively. I understand he has to earn his ice-time, but let's keep in mind players like Matt Stajan, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Mikhail Grabovski, and others, were only given top-six ice-time because there was no other skilled players to fill in the positions. To quote Cliff Fletcher, "Antropov is our only true top-six player." Similar to his teammates, Stralman first needs the opportunity to strut his stuff in order to realize his untapped potential. Until then, he'll be used as a fringe NHL defenseman.
In terms of his defensive game... well, there is none. Stralman is unreliable in his own end, and lacks any sort of physical game. But never say never. Stralman stands at 6 foot 1, 180 pounds. He's not exactly menacing, but if he were to implement an aggressive edge to his game, he could serve as an effective two-way defenseman. That said, Stralman's future with the Leafs is based largely from his offensive potential.
Until either Kaberle or Kubina are traded, however, Stralman's contributions will be limited - don't expect him to do much by replacing Sifers on the Leafs' defense.
If Brian Burke can work his magic wand, March 4th should be highlighted by the additions of prospects and draft picks.
It's important for the Leafs to realize, though, that they have a gem of a prospect who's ready to contribute.
They just have to provide him the necessary tools.
On a side note: Does anyone else get the feeling that Stralman may be packaged to acquire a defenseman at Deadline? I base this off absolutely nothing, but I can just see Burke sacrificing Stralman to sweeten the pot on potential trades. Perhaps for... Jay Bouwmeester?