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Tampa Bay Lightning rookie defenseman Victor Hedman proves he belongs in the NHL

TAMPA — The pass was one thing; crisp, accurate, cross-ice and right on the stick of Todd Fedoruk, who was in perfect position to score.

But truly impressive was the way Lightning rookie defenseman Victor Hedman developed the play; rushing end-to-end while shielding the puck from a defender until spotting his teammate in the offensive zone.

The goal, which gave Tampa Bay a 3-2 third-period lead Thursday at the St. Pete Times Forum, ultimately was a footnote in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Devils. But it was Hedman's first spotlight play in a career many predict will include stardom.

"As a coach, you don't want to look in the future too much," coach Rick Tocchet said. "But he does all the things and has all the makings of a great defenseman and having a great career."

"Victor Hedman," Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said, "is a very good player."

And better than expected.

The No. 2 overall pick in the June draft is averaging a team-high 25 minutes, 47 seconds of ice time and has been the Lightning's top minute-muncher in each of its three games.

He leads all rookies in ice time — by almost five minutes. He plays the point on the power play and kills penalties. His three assists entered Friday tied for the league's rookie lead. His three points were tied for second.

"He's probably going to turn into one of the best defensemen in the league," Lightning left wing Ryan Malone said. "And he's only 18, or whatever he is."

"The one thing he does, he makes a mistake and he wants back out," Tocchet said. "He doesn't hide. I love players who don't hide."

The trait came in handy after Tuesday's game with the Hurricanes.

Hedman, 6 feet 6, 220 pounds, said he was unhappy with his play in the 2-1 shootout loss.

"I didn't play very good on the power play," he said. "I thought I gave away too many pucks."

Add that his parents and girlfriend, Sanna Grundberg, were at the Times Forum on Thursday to see him play in the NHL for the first time, and the pressure was on.

"That definitely was a little extra for me," Hedman said.

His response: two assists, three shots on goal and a plus-2 in a career-high 26:38 of ice time.

Told he is making it look easy, Hedman, who doesn't turn 19 until Dec. 18 but played the past two seasons in Sweden's elite league, laughed.

"Easy? That's hard to say at this level," he said. "It just feels like lots of people didn't think I was ready to come over here and play. But that has always been my goal. It feels great to feel that you can contribute to the team."

"But again, you have to stay guarded with that, because you know it's going to be bumpy," said Lightning associate coach Rick Wilson, who handles the defense. "But it's encouraging and very exciting to see his start.

"He's a big, strong kid, and he's played in a men's league for a couple of years, and I think that is showing itself to be advantageous early. He's not nervous with the competition."

He is ready, though, for 0-1-2 Tampa Bay to get a victory.

"We've got to start (today)," he said, "against Carolina."

Tampa Bay Lightning rookie defenseman Victor Hedman proves he belongs in the NHL 10/09/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 10, 2009 12:19am]

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