Stralman says Lightning "close to complete"

New Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman is a huge heavy metal music fan, and can string a few tunes himself.

Stralman, 27, said when he and his wife Johanna moved in together in 2005, he had to give up video games, so he decided to buy a guitar for his 19th birthday. He’s no Slash, but can play Guns N Roses “Patience” pretty well.

“I wish I was good, like to think I’m good,” Stralman said, smiling. “But it’s just not happening.”

Fortunately for Stralman, he can stick to his day job, which recently got a lot more security. The former Ranger signed a five-year, $22.5 million deal with Tampa Bay on July 1, with the father of four making a brief trip to Tampa this week to house-hunt and research schools.

While Stralman doesn’t know the bay area very well, he’s well-versed in his new employer.

“This team really excites me,” Stralman said. “I think this team is very promising. When you’re making your choice, you want to see progress in a team in a positive way, and I think this team has all those good areas.

“I think this team is close to complete. Honestly the forwards, tremendous firepower there, best scorer in the league (Steven Stamkos), can’t ask for more really.”

Stralman said he spoke with former Rangers teammate Ryan Callahan and fellow Swede Victor Hedman before signing, wanting to confirm his positive thoughts. Stralman gives Tampa Bay the right-handed shooting, top-four defenseman it needed, and the team provided the veteran with the desired stability, including a no-trade clause.

Stralman is coming off what he considers his most consistent season, with one goal, 12 assists and a plus-9 in 81 games, stepping up in the Rangers run to the Stanley Cup final.

“He’s a really quiet player, but he just seems to do everything right,” coach Jon Cooper said. “He gets the puck, he makes the first pass. You watch as a coach, who is he defending against? He’s always defending against top lines. He’s a top four defenseman on a team that went to the Stanley Cup  final. He got assignments against big time players and had success.”

It wasn’t always that way. Stralman has had to earn everything in the NHL, having come in as a seventh-round pick in 2005 with the Maple Leafs. He arrived from Sweden as an offensive-minded defenseman who’d spark a power play.

But after being a combined minus-40 in his first four NHL seasons with the Leafs and Blue Jackets, and leaving a 2011 training camp tryout with the Devils without an offer, Stralman knew he had to change. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Swede signed with the Rangers, and adapted his game to a more defensive style under coach John Tortortella. Stralman was a plus-32 in his three seasons in New York while playing heavy minutes.

“It was hard,” Stralman said. “It was obviously a long process. Lots of ups and downs. But going into New York, and obviously with Torts, I knew the way my game was it isn’t going to work. Not going to be able to play, not going to take this chance I was given. So I worked hard to focus on the defensive part of my game. It took me a while but I think I earned Torts’ trust and that really helped me get even more experience and get some good feedback. I knew I was doing something right.”

Stralman hopes to re-discover his offensive game in the Lightning’s system, which has more freedom, without sacrificing what got him his big payday.

“He’s one of the more underrated guys,” said former Rangers teammate Brian Boyle, who also signed with the Lightning. “He can skate, he sees the ice so well and he doesn’t panic with the puck. He’s a huge pickup.”

Stralman is returning to New York today, but will soon go back to Sweden for a month with Johanna and their two sons and two daughters which range in age from 1 1/2-7.

“It’s all about them then,” he said.

Anton Stralman signed a five-year $22.5 million deal with the Lightning July 1.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Anton Stralman signed a five-year $22.5 million deal with the Lightning July 1.

[Last modified: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 4:53pm]

    

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