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Young Swede Knocking at the Door

Monday, 09.10.2007 / 4:26 PM ET / Features
By Mike Ulmer  - Mapleleafs.com commentator
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Young Swede Knocking at the Door
(KITCHENER) - Anton Stralman has the face of a 15-year-year-old and the game of a 25-year-old.

If he keeps developing at his current pace, it’s going to be tough to keep him from playing with the big boys.

The Leafs fifth choice, 216th in the 2005 entry draft rocketed past draftmates with a superb season with Timra IK of the Swedish Elite League. He then delivered one of the best performances of any skater at the World Championships in Moscow

Stralman did not disappoint at the four-team rookie tournament the Leafs shared with Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Leafs went 2-1-1 at the joint event after a 4-0 win over Florida Monday. Stralman was cool with the puck and extraordinarily agile on his skates.

“He’s very co-ordinated, he’s got great feet,” said Greg Gilbert, the Marlies coach who manned the Leafs bench. “Those are things that hopefully make for a great career.”

Stralman’s first attempt at play on a smaller rink went off with incident.

“I don’t think the smaller rink has been that much harder. It’s a faster game than in Sweden but I’ve just tried to keep on working,” he said.

  The World Championships, held in Russia last spring, offered Stralman the chance to see where he stood with some of the best players in the world. It was the turning point of his career.

“The World championships did a lot for my confidence. I was kind of nervous since I hadn’t met such good players before. I didn’t know what I was supposed to expect from myself. But as the tournament went on I felt I could play from the best players from the world.”

Stralman, who has a girlfriend and a three-month-old baby girl, has been charmed by Toronto.

“It’s like a fifth of Sweden so it’s a big difference.  I’m not used to that big a city. I like it.  I’ve been to Harbourfront, it was beautiful. I have been here for two weeks with my  girlfriend and our baby. She is three months. Her name is Liv.

“She’s been like an angel since we came here. She reaches out and she grabs things. It’s beautiful.”

Stralman cites an unusual training tip for his skating ability.

“I started when I was two years old. When I was a kid, we got help from the figure skaters, the girls. They came to our practice once a week and we learned some technique. It was turnarounds, not losing any pace, keeping the pace going while you were turning.

I think it was a good thing.”

Stralman’s performance at the World Championships prompted comparisons to some of Sweden’s greatest stars, including Detroit kingpin Nik Lidstrom. He says he is unaffected.

“It’s nice to be compared to great players but I try to play like Anton Stralman. I’m not searching to be somebody. I want to be myself and play my own game. I can learn from great players.”

True enough, but he comes to a city with a history of great Swedish talent. Borje Salming opened the door for legions of players from Europe and Mats Sundin enjoys unimpeachable status as the captain of the Maple Leafs.

“I think it’s great to come to a city where Swedish players had great success,  Mats and Borje other guys. Everyone is so nice. If you say your from Sweden they will do anything for you.”

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