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Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman ready to be a difference-maker

Victor Hedman, above, would be in the top defensive pairing if Mattias Ohlund goes on IR.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Victor Hedman, above, would be in the top defensive pairing if Mattias Ohlund goes on IR.

QUEBEC CITY — Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said he wants to be "a force" on the ice.

That's a good thing, because if Mattias Ohlund's right-knee injury gets him put on injured reserve — he is scheduled to see a doctor today in Tampa — Hedman will be elevated to the team's top pairing with Eric Brewer.

That means playing big minutes against top players. And that means, coach Guy Boucher said, "We need to have someone to be able to step up."

Hedman didn't flinch: "I want to be a guy who makes a difference."

Truth be told, there already is an expectation Hedman, 20, is about to take the next step in his development.

The 6-foot-6, 229-pound Swede, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2009 draft, was one of Tampa Bay's best blue-liners during last season's payoffs and was second on the team with an average 22:16 of ice time. He was third with 48 blocked shots, and his 13 takeaways, due in great part to his long reach, were tied for second in the league.

That was after a regular season in which he had three goals and career bests of 23 assists and 26 points while better balancing his defensive responsibilities with his offensive instincts.

Hedman loves to produce offense. Just talking about it puts a smile on his face. But joining the rush sometimes took him out of position for when the puck came the other way.

"I learned my lesson the first two seasons," Hedman said before Saturday night's 5-1 loss to the Canadiens in the preseason finale at the Pepsi Colisee. "Good offense comes from good defense. You want to make plays when you have the time, but, I mean, always think defense first. I'm just more secure in my game about when to go and not to go."

"He's really matured," Boucher said. "He's a decent offensive player who has tremendous speed, great mobility, good vision and great passing ability. But now he understands, first and foremost, being able to defend."

In other words, when talking about Hedman's long-term upside, think more rock-solid, like Chris Pronger and Zdeno Chara than, say, Nashville's Shea Weber.

But even those are difficult comparisons. Hedman's game is not nearly as physical, something for which he has taken outside criticism. But Lightning assistant coach Dan Lacroix, who handles the defense, said that is unfair.

"The way we ask him to play is to have a great stick and make sure pucks don't go through," Lacroix said. "We don't put as much emphasis on the physical play of our D until they are in front of the net and battling."

Indeed, the signs of Hedman's progress are subtle. He seems much calmer in the defensive zone handling the puck and looking for passing lanes, and Hedman agrees. "I feel much more poised out there."

He also continues to develop as a shot-blocker.

"Tip of the iceberg" is how Boucher described what Hedman has shown.

Added fellow defenseman Pavel Kubina: "He has the potential to be one of the best in the league."

For now, one of the best on the team will do.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @LightningTimes.

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman ready to be a difference-maker 10/01/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 6, 2011 7:37pm]
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