Ryan O'Byrne, Anton Stralman: A Tale of Two Sophomores—To Jinx or Not To Jinx?

Fred PoulinCorrespondent IDecember 15, 2008

There are two second-year defensemen playing for two different NHL teams who have seemingly put to bed any notion of professional sport's famous Sophomore Jinx. In fact, the two have played just as well as they did in their rookie campaigns.

The two defensemen, Ryan O'Byrne and Anton Stralman, hail from two Canadian teams—Montreal and Toronto, respectively. Stralman has been sent down, while O'Byrne is still with the big club.

Both defenseman had great rookie years. Stralman thrived as a more offensive-minded defenseman who showed his talents, not in the NHL playoffs, but in May at the World Championships.

O'Byrne looked to be the next Mike Komisarek, possessing a dominating physical presence which, with a bit of tutoring from Roman Hamrlik, could lead him into the upper echelon of NHL defensemen.

Neither Stralman nor O'Byrne has quite looked up to par in their respective sophomore years in the league, a phenomenon which has plagued many NHL players.

Toronto decided to send Stralman down for some further conditioning while deciding to replace him on the roster with rookie Jaime Sifers, who has had a solid three games.

But what if the Maple Leafs had kept Stralman up to play through his struggles? 
Last season, he played 50 games, scored three goals, and had six assists. He had a plus-minus of -10, 18 penalty minutes, and 40 shots. Thus far with Toronto in 2008-09, he has had one goal and six assists in 21 games, a plus-minus of +1, six penalty minutes, and one game-winning goal on 29 shots.

Those stats would have put Stralman on pace for 74 games played, three goals, 21 assists, and a +3 plus-minus rating.

On paper at least, Stralman looks to be is playing better than he did last year. He had been playing poorly as of late, and with the return of Mike Van Ryn and the imminent return of Jonas Frogren, Toronto has too many defensemen, especially given how well Sifers has been playing.

Some time in the minors for Stralman could be good for him. Toronto has been disappointed with his performance on the power play, especially since he showed his potential during the World Championships and has since had no power play goals to his name for the Mapel Leafs.

Faceoff.com lists puck poise and "on-ice maturity" as Stralman's assets, stating that he "owns a projectible frame and an offensive upside." It also cites his hard shot and superior play on point during power plays. But, the Swedish-born Stralman still needs to add more bulk to better defend against bigger North American forwards, while adding speed to catch up to the NHL's pace.

It appears the main reason why Stralman was sent down was because he was not showing the "puck poise" and "on-ice maturity" which he showed last year, and sometimes made bad plays in his own zone. With the potential that he has, however, he will undoubtedly be back sometime this year.

On the other side of the coin, O'Byrne, who has not been playing up to his rookie year performance, is still dressing for the Canadiens. He is more of a stay-at-home defender than Stralman, and is very noticable on the ice—and not in a good way.

He has been letting far too many players blow right by him, seemingly bewildered by the speed of the NHL game. Last season, he had a plus-minus rating of +7, with one goal and six assists. This season, he is already at -5 and is projected to be a -18. Yet, he is still in the NHL while the improving Stralman is toiling in the minors.

Faceoff.com said of O'Byrne's assets that he "has the size and physical toughness teams lust after at the NHL level."  He is a team player and has a "sound stay-at-home presence."

However, Faceoff.com also says that he is "extremely limited in the offensive zone and will never be confused with a power play quarterback." The site also slights his lack of mobility and coordination.

So why is O'Byrne in the NHL, and Stralman toiling in the minors?  Only the teams can answer that question.