The Late-Bloomer: Anton Stralman

by Eric Daoust on March 24, 2015
AntonStralman

 

The latest breakout defenseman: Anton Stralman

 

Over the years we have seen many defensemen break out many years after most of us had written them off as potential fantasy assets. From Johnny Boychuk to Mark Giordano all the way to Mark Streit, these late bloomers can be difference makers in your quest to win your league championship. The problem is that for every defenseman that ascends to fantasy relevance at a later age, there are many others that show signs and simply fail to take the next step. Defensemen usually provide fantasy owners with plenty of ups and downs over the course of the season and taking a chance on an unproven player can leave your team with a slew of zeros if it does not work.

Today’s case study is Anton Stralman, a prized free agent and puck-possession king that received a big raise last summer and is subsequently having a career year at the age of 28 in his new environment. Prior to the change of scenery, Stralman had been all but written off as a fantasy contributor after several consecutive years of failing to reach 20 points in Columbus and New York. Fast-forward to today and you have a defenseman that has been very reliable in Tampa and is a threat to achieve 40 points by the end of the season.

 

Factors for success

While there is obviously some risk involved when adding a guy like Stralman to your fantasy roster, especially if your league puts limitations on waiver wire acquisitions, there are ways to aid your chances of success. Frankly, many leagues are very competitive and the draft alone will not be enough to seal the final victory. You will need to hit a home run or two with your free agent grabs to put your team over the top. In the case of Stralman, only 25 defensemen have more points than he does this year. Many people thought the initial points surge was unsustainable but anyone that kept him around added a serious upgrade to their fantasy roster.

Even though the production was not always there, the talent has been there all along. It takes gaining experience and maturing as a player in addition to being put in an advantageous situation to maximize production. By looking at Stralman’s career numbers, there are many hints that show us some of the factors that can be used to assess if a player has hidden offensive potential and whether or not a hot streak is sustainable.

 

Season

Team

GP

G

A

Pt

+/-

PIM

SOG

PPG

PPA

Hit

Blk

TOI/G

TOI-PP

TOI-SH

2007-2008

TOR

50

3

6

9

-10

18

40

0

2

32

23

12:48

0:00

0:00

2008-2009

TOR

38

1

12

13

-2

20

43

0

5

37

37

15:33

0:00

0:00

2009-2010

CBJ

73

6

28

34

-17

37

121

4

18

63

55

20:28

3:35

0:40

2010-2011

CBJ

51

1

17

18

-11

22

80

1

9

39

46

19:43

2:57

0:19

2011-2012

NYR

53

2

16

18

9

20

55

0

4

76

71

17:05

1:12

0:36

2012-2013

NYR

48

4

3

7

14

16

66

0

0

75

42

18:02

1:04

0:57

2013-2014

NYR

81

1

12

13

9

26

104

0

0

75

64

19:24

0:16

1:37

2014-2015

TB

73

8

28

36

21

26

121

2

10

92

68

21:55

2:31

2:29

Career Total

467

26

122

148

13

185

630

7

48

489

406

18:34

1:34

0:58

 

Past history

Even though for most of his career Stralman has not been much of a factor at the offensive end, there is one campaign that stands out. In 2009-10, he managed to produce 34 points for the Blue Jackets. Clearly, the power play was a major factor in this success, where he added 22 points in 3:35 of average power play ice time, which remains his career-best. Furthermore, this was the only time his overall ice time eclipsed the 20-minute mark prior to this year.

This year, we see a similar pattern with Stralman’s ice time as his average of close to 22 minutes is a personal-best. While his power play utilization has not reached the peaks he achieved in Columbus, it is a significant improvement over the nearly-irrelevant minutes he was on the man advantage in New York. He has responded with 12 of his 36 points on the power play.

Finally, you can also look to Stralman’s shooting rate. His career-best is 121 shots, a total that was achieved in that same year with the Blue Jackets. So far this year he has matched that shot total in the same amount of games. The volume of shots always helps for defensemen. Not only to they lead to more goals, including Stralman’s career-high eight this year, the shooting mentality can also produce deflections which count as extra assists.

What Stralman’s history shows is that he is capable of such production and has already done it for an entire season. The fact that he has been showing similar patterns this year with his deployment and shooting gives a hint that the production could be here to stay, at least for the time being.

 

Linemates 

Usually line combinations are analyzed more in-depth for forwards. There are simply more players up front which allows for more possible combinations. But it counts on the blueline too. By looking at Stralman’s most frequent defense partners at even strength last year versus this year we can see where there are more points to be had.

 

2013-14 – NYR

 

Frequency

Strength

Line Combination

Partner PTS

70.65%

EV

18 STAAL,MARC – 6 STRALMAN,ANTON

14

10.55%

EV

17 MOORE,JOHN – 6 STRALMAN,ANTON

15

9.44%

EV

27 MCDONAGH,RYAN – 6 STRALMAN,ANTON

43

6.40%

EV

4 DEL ZOTTO,MICHAEL – 6 STRALMAN,ANTON

16

1.02%

EV

8 KLEIN,KEVIN – 6 STRALMAN,ANTON

9

 

Here, the elephant in the room is Marc Staal who was Stralman’s partner a staggering 70% of the time a year ago. Staal has not been much of a factor at the offensive end in recent years, including just 14 points in 2013-14. In this role, Stralman’s offensive upside was definitely limited. His only strong offensive partner was Ryan McDonagh but this pairing was not together often. Meanwhile, in Tampa Bay the defense pairings paint a much different picture.

 

2014-15 – TB

 

Frequency

Strength

Line Combination

Partner PTS

37.11%

EV

77 HEDMAN,VICTOR – 6 STRALMAN,ANTON

37

27.67%

EV

25 CARLE,MATTHEW – 6 STRALMAN,ANTON

17

15.86%

EV

8 BARBERIO,MARK – 6 STRALMAN,ANTON

6

8.52%

EV

89 NESTEROV,NIKITA – 6 STRALMAN,ANTON

4

7.30%

EV

5 GARRISON,JASON – 6 STRALMAN,ANTON

30

 

Being assigned a spot next to Victor Hedman, a premier offensive defenseman, obviously helps a ton. Overall, Stralman’s defense partners are much more offensive-minded with Carle and Garrison also having a history of production in the NHL. Furthermore, even though Barberio has not produced in the NHL yet, he has done so in spades in the minor leagues and is a very talented defenseman. Oddly enough, Stralman has produced more at even strength next to Barberio than any other Lightning blueliner but has also been able to pick up points next to the other guys.

 

Finances 

In a salary-capped NHL world, finances and contracts cannot be ignored even if your fantasy league does not use player salaries or salary caps. Money and term mean opportunities. A team does not go out of its way to sign a coveted free agent just to use him in the same limited role that he played last year. Even though the offensive production was never guaranteed, you could be assured that Stralman would be seeing more minutes on the ice.

 

Injuries

In many instances when a player is set to overachieve, injuries to other players on the roster play a big part in the outcome. Not only does it give opportunities to players that do not get them normally, it also offers those players a longer leash in their new role until the others return from their ailments. As it turns out, the Lightning have been hit hard with injuries to their defense, with three regulars missing significant amounts of time.

 

 

While Stralman’s contract afforded him some opportunities with his new club, the absence of key players for extended periods of time helps maintain a favorable spot even during dry spells. Otherwise, the coach has more options at his disposal and may opt for change more quickly. Now that Stralman has taken advantage of the opportunity and has established himself in his new role, he will have a much easier time maintaining his minutes in all situations even when everyone is back to health.

 

The bigger picture

Stralman has been a great example of a defenseman peaking at a later age. He changed teams via free agency by signing a large contract and took advantage of some opportunities to produce a very good fantasy campaign. This type of unexpected breakout year happens often and is rarely obvious. However, getting ahead of the curve to identify candidates can be very beneficial.

When a team pays a hefty price to acquire a player, clearly they see something that is worth trying to exploit. For Stralman it was the big contract and for Boychuk it was the pre-season trade that saw the Islanders move two second-round picks and a third. In both cases you can look at increases in utilization as well as sharing the ice with immensely-talented players as being factors that helped their respective ascents.

In many other instances, the surge proves to be unsustainable. Kevin Connauton is one such example. After being acquired off of waivers from Dallas by the Blue Jackets, he heated up offensively in his new environment. Then things went downhill quickly around the start of 2015. Warning signs included an inflated shooting percentage and a lack of ice time, not to mention that another team had just ditched him. The key is that the warning signs were there and Connauton’s eventual decline was fairly predictable.

Thankfully, we have the tools to track these players which can help determine whether or not he is a flash in the pan or a player that can be a real difference-maker for your fantasy squad. The research may be tedious but in the end the reward is worth the effort.

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Follow me on Twitter @DH_EricDaoust.