Five Years After ’09 Draft, Hedman Living Up To His Promise
Five years ago an 18-year-old Victor Hedman was selling himself to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
"I think I can bring a winning mentality to the team," he said in the days leading up to the draft. "I want to bring my two-way game and show them one of my biggest strengths – playing in all situations."
In retrospect, as with all young talent, the Bolts could not predict if the blue-liner from Ornskoldsvik, Sweden would be able to live up to his word, but now they are happy they took the chance.
So is Hedman, who admitted that "deep down inside" he cared more about being drafted by the Lightning than being in the situation that the New York Islanders' John Tavares, who visits the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Thursday, ended up in that summer as the No. 1 overall pick.
"That was maybe more important for me than going first overall," Hedman said.
It is hard to believe that Hedman has been a part of an NHL roster for five full seasons given the fact that he is only 23-years-old and the youngest defenseman in their eight-man rotation.
It might not be all that obvious judging by his impressive 2013-14 statistics.
Hedman leads all Lightning defensemen in points with 26 (10 goals, 16 assists) and is second on the team in total ice time behind fellow blue-liner Matt Carle logging an average of 22:07 per night. His 10 goals are also a career-best and are tied for second in the league (Eric Karlsson, Dustin Byfuglien, Torey Krug). He is the fifth NHL defenseman to amass 10 markers this season.
As Tampa Bay crossed the midway point of the season at the beginning of January, it is likely that Hedman will surpass his career-high for assists (23) and points (26) set in 2010-11 in the 35 games remaining on their schedule.
"It was going to take time, but I think it was good for me to come over early," Hedman said. "Right now it's starting to pay off."
Now that the Bolts project in the making has reached his five-year anniversary he is starting to hit his stride. No longer is the game one step ahead of him, instead play has slowed down and Hedman seems to be in the right place at the right time.
"I'm extremely impressed at how much he thinks everything out now," head coach Jon Cooper said. "Now he has the confidence to make these plays and that's where he's really matured.
"It's hard for me not to sit here and say he's propelling himself up into the upper echelon of defenseman and he's earning that. If he can sustain this for a full season, people are going to start talking individual rewards for him."
It did not even take a whole season for Hedman, who many considered to be a near lock for Team Sweden's in the 2014 Winter Olympics. Yet when Hedman's name was omitted from his native homeland's roster, his maturity showed once again in his response.
Believing he had played his best hockey of his career Hedman hoped that would be enough to catch Sweden's attention, but when it became clear that it was not, he shrugged it off, though disappointed, and directed all attention on the Lightning.
"I just need to keep focusing on playing well for Tampa and if something happens I'll be ready," Hedman said. "They said if someone got hurt, I'd be on standby."
Hedman has become a staple to not only the defense, mentoring the young pack of blueliners who are establishing themselves as full-timers just like Mattias Ohlund did for him, but a leader on the team.
When he missed six games from December 7-17 with a lower body injury, Hedman responded with 11 points in his past 13 games since his return.
"We need him to be playing the way he has been for us to be successful," fellow Lightning defenseman Sami Salo said. "He's a big man, but he skates like the wind and when he does those things on a nightly basis we are successful."
His confidence continues to grow as the team becomes more dependent on the quiet giant who has lived up to the words he used to describe himself back in 2009.
"I really love the game of hockey and I love the team I'm playing with," Hedman said. "I'm going to do whatever it takes to win."
Hedman is scheduled to skate in his 300th NHL game Thursday versus Tavares and the Islanders.