ATLANTA — There was a time Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman wanted points (goals, assists) for the sake of getting points.
As 2009's No. 2 overall draft pick, he figured that is what he was supposed to do.
"There's pressure when you're a high draft pick," Hedman said. "That's when you start to do things you're not capable of."
And forgetting one's primary responsibility, after all, is defense; a lesson it took Hedman a season and a half to learn.
The lightbulb went off after games Jan. 5-9 against the Penguins, Senators and Devils in which Hedman was a combined minus-6 with at least three giveaways that led to goals.
Since then, Hedman has been a monster defensively. He is a combined plus-3 over his past four games and dominated Tuesday's 3-2 shootout victory over the Blue Jackets with two hits, a blocked shot and three takeaways during a season-high 26:34 of ice time.
It was, coach Guy Boucher said, a glimpse of Hedman's "sky-high" potential.
The bonus: For the first time, Hedman had an assist in a fourth straight game. He will try to make it five tonight against the Thrashers at Philips Arena.
"You play good defense, and you get offense out of it," Hedman said. "Defense first and don't try to force things like I'd been trying to."
Hedman, 20, is a physical specimen.
Not only does he have size, but at 6 feet 6, 229 pounds, he skates with speed, handles the puck and can shoot.
He said he believed he had to match players such as Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2008 and a Norris trophy candidate last season.
He also saw teammate Steven Stamkos score 50 goals in his second season.
"You look at other guys, and you try to force things," said Hedman, a Swede who before last season never played the faster North American game. "You try to get points just because you feel like you have to get a lot of points."
But forcing things offensively took away from Hedman's defense, and the way he was getting burned made him re-evaluate his game and priorities.
"A few of us talked to him and told him you've got to play simple, make the first play," defensive partner Brett Clark said. "He just relaxed a little bit."
"He changed his expectations," Boucher said. "Expecting to come out and be this offensive threat and doing it all because it's going to make him worthy of a first-round pick was the biggest obstacle in his mind."
"He's realizing he doesn't have to be Bobby Orr."
As for being Victor Hedman, Boucher said, "Defensively, he's attacking seams, not players. He's using his speed for the right reasons at the right moment."
Such as during the first period against Columbus, when Hedman rushed a puck out of the defensive zone and hit Stamkos with a perfect pass that set up a goal.
"When you have time and space, skate with it," said Hedman, who has two goals, leads Lightning defensemen with 16 assists and 18 points and averages a team-high 21:03 of ice time. "But just because you make a good play, you still have to have your feet down and focus on defense first."
"He can control a game," Clark said. "Down the road, he's going to be one of those guys everybody will want on his team."
SMITH UPDATE: Goalie Mike Smith has been cleared to play and is expected to be, perhaps as soon as today, removed from injured reserve. Smith, who is practicing with the team, has been out since Dec. 20 with a sprained left knee.
BERGERON HURT: AHL Norfolk defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron sat out Tuesday's game because of a contusion to his right knee sustained Sunday against Charlotte. Norfolk spokesman Keith Phillips said Bergeron was held out as a precaution.
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.