Sunday, April 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning's Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman hope for a Swede pairing

BRANDON — New Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said he didn't know fellow Swede Victor Hedman well before signing this summer.

Stralman, 28, played with Hedman's older brother Oscar, 28, in the World Junior Championships, but he met Victor only a few times.

However, when Stralman joined Hedman, 23, last week for the team's informal skates at the Ice Forum, he said they had quick-developing chemistry.

"It's almost like that when you meet a fellow Swede, it's like you've known each other forever," Stralman said. "It's just natural."

How the two Swedes mesh on the ice could go a long way toward determining whether Stralman will join Hedman in the Lightning's top pairing this season, a decision that will be sorted out in training camp, which starts Sept. 18 at Amalie Arena.

Stralman was Tampa Bay's biggest free agent addition on July 1, signing a five-year, $22.5 million deal to help bolster the blue line. And Stralman, who has never been partnered with a Swede in the NHL, would be pumped to be paired with Hedman, who has developed into one of the league's top young defensemen.

"It'd be awesome to play together," Hedman said. "But we'll see what happens."

The duo would be a fit in a few ways, starting with Stralman being a right-handed shot, Hedman a lefty. Stralman, a strong puck-possession defenseman, was a combined plus-32 over the past three seasons with the Rangers, raising his game during last season's playoff run to the Stanley Cup final.

"You saw in the playoffs how good of a player he is," Hedman said. "He can play on both ends of the ice. He's consistent. He's going to bring a lot to this team, great experience."

Hedman believes he took his play to another level last season, not coincidentally a year he passed the 300-games-played plateau. Under coach Jon Cooper's system, defensemen were allowed more freedom in offensive situations, which Hedman thought fitted his two-way game.

His confidence, and point-production, soared, and he racked up career highs in goals (13), assists (42) and points (55). Meanwhile, Hedman's size (6 feet 6, 233 pounds) and reach continued to make him a force in his zone.

Stralman, a 5-11, 190-pound Tibro, Sweden, native, looked up to Hedman, from Ornskoldsvik, in more ways than one.

"He's got the full package," Stralman said. "I think we would complement each other really well."

Stralman, who has 18 goals in seven NHL seasons, thinks the Lightning's style could help him squeeze more offense out of his game, too.

"I'm a puck-possession d-man, so I try to create much, but maybe not follow it up all the time," Stralman said. "Maybe now I'll be able to do that a little better, more efficient."

Stralman wasn't the only top-four defenseman added to the Lightning blue line during the summer. Tampa Bay also signed defenseman Jason Garrison from Vancouver.

With veterans such as Eric Brewer and Matt Carle returning, it takes pressure off last year's rookie defensemen — Radko Gudas, Mark Barberio and Andrej Sustr among them — who can get pushed down to lower pairings (and minutes).

"I think the team is clear what they wanted to do. They wanted to get some established players and increase the depth of our team," Brewer said. "It's really a good thing. (Stralman and Garrison) are a good fit. They've both played a fair chunk of games now."

Whether the two Swedes are the right fit in a pairing remains to be seen, but Hedman suggested another advantage.

"It'll be easier for us to communicate," he said. "And harder for the opposition to know what we're saying."

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

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