Stralman starting to leave a mark

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

In the wee hours of the Swedish morning, the Stralman clan might well have been hunkered down in front of the television back in Anton's native Timbro, watching their favourite son's special night.

At least, Anton Stralman hopes that was the case.

"I think they probably saw the game," said Stralman, named the first star in the Maple Leafs' 5-4 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday at the Air Canada Centre. "I think they showed it on Swedish TV. I haven't talked to them yet, but I did get a text message."

Sure, the game would have been on at about 2 a.m., back in Sweden. But had his family, in fact, seen the rookie defenceman strut his stuff, they most certainly would have been proud of the way he continues to progress.

Towering defenceman Hal Gill, who partnered with Stralman at times on the blue line that night, said the young Swede has remarkable gap control, meaning Stralman can make up space on opposing defenders in the blink of his eye.

He also is beginning to flex his many offensive skills on the power play.

Stralman was frustrated at being sent down to the American Hockey League's Marlies earlier this season, suggesting that a return to the Swedish elite league might be a better fit. But Bryan McCabe's three-fractured bones in his left hand last month opened the door for Stralman to showcase his skills at the NHL level, an opportunity he is beginning to take advantage of.

"I still think it's better to learn at this level, given the pace and all," he said. "And you can really learn by watching guys like (Tomas Kaberle).

"I always felt I could play at this level. That's why I signed a contract. And it's getting easier and easier out there all the time."

Stralman has two assists in 17 games with the Leafs.


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