So much for easing defenseman Victor Hedman into the Tampa Bay Lightning lineup
If the time on ice from the Tampa Bay Lightning's season opener is any indication, rookie defenseman Victor Hedman is not going to be eased into the North American game. Hedman, 18, the No. 2 overall pick of the June draft, played a game-high 26 minutes, 27 seconds against the Thrashers with five shots and an assist.
"We all make mistakes," said associate coach Rick Wilson, who handles the defense and pointed out some positional issues upon which Hedman can improve. "But in the bigger context of the game, he was well-poised."
He certainly made an impression on Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. Asked about Hedman after the morning skate, Maurice said he "absolutely" was impressed by what he saw on video.
"His passing game more than anything," Maurice said. "His ability to move the puck flat on the ice. Being able to move the puck flat sounds like it should be pretty standard, but it's not easy to do."
Perhaps not, but Hedman said it is not something he even thinks about.
"It's a new one on me," he said. "I try to make good passes all the time. I want to make it hard so you don't have to wait for the puck and you can either tip it in or take it and skate away with it."
Wilson said so far Hedman has exceeded expectations, but added, "You have to stay guarded because you know it's going to be bumpy, but it's very encouraging and exciting to see his start. A big strong kid. He's played in a men's league a couple of years (in his native Sweden), and I think that's showing itself. He's just not nervous with the competition. Maybe he doesn't know the competition. Ignorance is bliss, right?"
Other stuff from the morning skate: Mike Smith gets his second straight start in net. ... David Hale will start on defense in place of Kurtis Foster, out with an undisclosed lower-back injury. More a stay-at-home, he will pair with rover Andrej Meszaros. Hale didn't sound like someone waiting for Foster to return. "At this level, it's all up to me how I play," he said. "I have the responsibility of keeping myself in the lineup. If they take me out, then I know I haven't done enough." ... Foster skated for the first time since being injured against the Thrashers; coach Rick Tocchet said that was a few days ahead of schedule. Foster said he likely will practice on Wednesday and "go from there." ... Foster's right-handed shot was a huge asset on the power play. We'll see how Tocchet tinkers to pick up the slack. ... Carolina's Eric Staal always has been a royal pain to the Lightning with 22 goals and 38 points in 36 career games. Last season, Staal had eight goals and 11 points in six games against Tampa Bay, including a four-goal, six-point outburst in Carolina's 9-3 victory on March 7. Tocchet said he is counting on the Lightning's revamped blue line to slow Staal down, but also put the onus on center Vinny Lecavalier, whose line will face Staal's. "Vinny will play him straight up," Tocchet said. "We need our better players to challenge those players, too. Vinny's up for the challenge."