TAMPA — Defenseman Victor Hedman and wing Nikita Kucherov had just come off the Amalie Arena ice after the first of two practice sessions Tuesday when they found out the news:
They're first-time All-Stars, selected to represent the Atlantic Division Jan. 29 in Los Angeles.
"It's obviously a huge honor," Hedman said. "(Kucherov) was excited as well. It's always fun to have a teammate go with you."
Their selections shouldn't be a surprise. Kucherov 23, leads the team in goals (16) and points (39), and helped carry the Lightning in the weeks after Steven Stamkos' knee injury. Hedman, 26, one of the league's top defensemen, ranks second on the Lightning in points with 37, and a team-high 30 assists. The 6-foot-6 Swede has shouldered a large load in his eighth season, averaging 24 minutes, 38 seconds per game (two higher than career average).
"Deserving guys for sure," center Brian Boyle said of Hedman, Kucherov being All-Stars. "Two really big bright spots for us this year, guys that continue to get better and better and want to get better and better. We want to follow their lead."
Hedman's and Kucherov's excitement was muted considering the Lightning's struggles, having lost four straight games to fall to .500 (19-19-4) and on the outside looking in on a playoff spot. Kucherov said it's a great opportunity and is happy for Hedman.
The Lightning had two All-Stars last year, Stamkos and goalie Ben Bishop, but both have been sidelined by injuries this season. Each division has six forwards, three defensemen and two goaltenders for the 3-on-3, three-game tournament.
"You never know if you're going to get this opportunity again," coach Jon Cooper said. "It's an honor to be chosen and I know our guys are really, really excited for them."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.