Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom took in Friday's Lightning game with his eyes on fellow Swedes, scouting for the World Cup team.
And Lidstrom couldn't help but notice defenseman Victor Hedman.
"When he brings the puck up the ice, it's fun to watch," Lidstrom said.
Expect to see a lot more of Hedman in coming month, with the 6-foot-6 defenseman likely to shoulder the largest load in the absence of D Jason Garrison, who is out 3-5 weeks with a lower-body injury.
Hedman logged a season-high 27 minutes, 50 seconds in Friday's 4-3 overtime win over Nashville. While others, including Anton Stralman, will play more, and D Braydon Coburn will play more on the left, associate coach Rick Bowness said Hedman will average 25 minutes a game. Hedman averages 22:46 this season.
"Can he handle 25-28 minutes?" Bowness said. "There's no doubt about it."
Hedman's ice time hasn't been as high as other top NHL defensemen because he hasn't always been on the No. 1 power-play unit, plus Tampa Bay uses seven defensemen at times. Hedman said he'd love to play more, saying Garrison's injury puts pressure on him to lead the group.
"He's the guy," Bowness said. "He's the physical force. He's a dominant player when he's on his game. Very few shifts when Victor plays that you don't notice him doing something because of his skating ability and his size."
While Hedman was a plus-1 with two assists Friday, and set up C Steven Stamkos for the tying goal, he wasn't happy with his overall play. "That's the pressure I put on myself to be better," he said. "(Friday) wasn't good enough."
Hedman leads the Lightning with 29 assists, and his possession metrics (both in Corsi and Fenwick) are at career bests. But Lidstrom believes Hedman can be a Norris Trophy caliber defenseman, and is still scratching the surface.
"He's got great potential to be a great player in this league," Lidstrom said. "Even though he's played six-seven years, he's still a young player. He's still in his mid-20s, still got a lot more years to grow."
Stamkos watch: Stamkos tries his best not to say things about his contract negotiations that people can "twist around." But after he said Thursday that there will be "answers" by the Feb. 29 trade deadline, speculation was he might be open to waiving his no-move clause. Sportsnet listed top five trade partners and TSN's Bob McKenzie suggested Stamkos' first choice might be Buffalo. My gut feeling is that Stamkos isn't going anywhere at the deadline, finishing a potential playoff run in Tampa Bay. On July 1? That's a whole other story.
Nuts and bolts: The Lightning already seemed to need a defenseman, and Garrison's injury might increase that priority. … Would think the club will try to deal RW Jonathan Drouin by the deadline, with Ottawa rumored to be among the suitors. … Hard to figure out why RW Jonathan Marchessault (10 scratches in the past 14 games) continues to sit. He's a skilled forward with a shoot-first mentality; his six goals in 27 games are more than Ryan Callahan (five in 53) and one shy of Valtteri Filppula (seven in 54). And when Marchessault gets in, he's on the first power play.