Monday, April 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Victor Hedman emerges as a Lightning star

TAMPA

Denis Potvin is a Hall of Fame defenseman, one of the best to ever pull on a pair of skates. So he knows the game. He knows defense. He knows what a good defenseman looks like.

The way he sees it, it takes about 300 NHL games for a defenseman to figure out how to play the position. About 300 for the game to slow down and get easier.

It takes 300 games to become a star.

"Now,'' Potvin said, "look at how many games Victor Hedman has played.''

Well isn't this something? Tonight in Toronto, Hedman plays in his 304th NHL game.

In case you hadn't noticed, Hedman has become a star.

And it has happened rather recently even if it has taken years to arrive here.

The 23-year-old, who, remarkably, is still the youngest defenseman on the team, has registered back-to-back three-assist games and already has set career marks for goals and points with 30 games to play. His 10 goals were tied for sixth in the NHL among defensemen entering Monday and his 32 points have him in the top 10 among blue-liners.

Crunch all the numbers, watch him play and it breaks down like this: Victor Hedman is one of the best defensemen in the NHL.

"Heddy has just come into his own,'' Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "It's a tribute to him that he has weathered his ups and downs. He has weathered his critics.''

There were plenty of those in Hedman's first four seasons in the NHL. You tend to collect your share when you're the second overall pick and have the poor taste to not look like the next Bobby Orr right off the plane.

"That weighs on you,'' Cooper said.

Hedman heard the grumbling earlier in his career. No one called him a bust, but there were those who wondered if he was worth the second pick back in 2009.

He showed flashes of stardom, but eventually, fans grow tired of potential. They start looking back at the draft and lamenting the players the Lightning could have had.

"When you're drafted that high,'' Hedman said, "expectations are sky-high.''

Never mind that he was a mere 18 years old when he came over from his native Sweden. He was in a new country, a new culture, a new league — the best in the world. His man-sized frame (6 feet 6, 225 pounds) fooled us. It made us forget that he was still just a kid.

So we watched him and we thought he was okay defensively and not bad offensively and, overall, decent.

But when you're talking about the second pick, you expect more than okay and not bad and decent.

Even Hedman grew impatient.

"From the beginning, it has been tough,'' Hedman said. "This is my fifth season. It has taken a longer time than I wanted it to take.''

When Cooper arrived near the end of last season, his first order of business with Hedman was to take some things off of his plate. Actually, Cooper took back the whole plate.

"We spoon-fed him everything he needed,'' Cooper said.

For the first 20 games of this season, Hedman didn't play on the power play. His minutes were limited. Expectations were lowered.

Slowly, but steadily, Hedman's play improved. Shift by shift, game by game. Soon, the flashes of greatness turned into a steady light. Bouts of inconsistency disappeared. Pretty soon, especially of late, Hedman became the best player on the ice.

Every game. All game.

"Now,'' Cooper said, "you can't take him off the ice.''

Is he a better player now?

"He's playing better, I guess that's the way to put it,'' Cooper said.

Cooper isn't taking credit for Hedman's development, but said the Lightning's system fits Hedman's game.

"And we're catching him at 23 years old with 300 games under his belt,'' Cooper said, "and he has slowly figured out the league.''

The league, however, is still figuring out Hedman. Last month, Hedman was, like the rest of us, stunned when he was not named to the Swedish Olympic team.

"When I found out I wasn't making the team, it was very disappointing, but you have to put that behind you and focus on this team,'' Hedman said. "This is where you want to succeed the most.''

So he's not using the snub as motivation?

"Not anymore,'' Hedman said.

And, see, this is the thing about Hedman. He doesn't pout. He doesn't make excuses. He doesn't point fingers or feel sorry for himself.

Even when his critics griped that he can't do this or should be better at that, Hedman ignored them and just kept working harder. When Sweden left him off the Olympic team, he moved on.

He could look back, but what's the point?

"I'm having my best season so far in my career, but I can't be satisfied,'' Hedman said. "Things have been going well, but I have to keep working on my game and try to get better everyday. It sounds like a cliche, but that's how it has to be.''

And, most of all, he needed to put in time — about 300 games — to become a star.

"Maybe for me, that time is now,'' Hedman said.

There's no maybe about it.

Comments
Lightning Round 2 playoff tickets on sale Monday

Lightning Round 2 playoff tickets on sale Monday

Single-game tickets for the Lightning's Eastern Conference semifinal series go on sale to the general public at 1 p.m. Monday at nhl.com/lightning/tickets.The Lightning plays the winner of the Bruins-Maple Leafs series. Game 6 of that series is Monda...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Andrei Vasilevskiy and the universal language of playoff hockey

Andrei Vasilevskiy and the universal language of playoff hockey

TAMPA — As usual, Andrei Vasilevskiy didn't speak in front of the cameras after the game. He has been like that since he hit the NHL. He still isn't comfortable with his English on TV.But Vasilevskiy spoke loudly and clearly in the first-round ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Lightning has answer for Devils and David Puddy

Lightning has answer for Devils and David Puddy

You knew those who work the scoreboard for the Lightning games at Amalie Arena would have an answer Saturday during Game 5 to the Devils using David Puddy during Game 4 at the Prudential Center.Puddy meets Homer Simpson.Actually, Puddy met Terry the ...
Published: 04/22/18
Lightning-Devils: Grading Tampa Bay’s clinching 3-1 victory in Game 5

Lightning-Devils: Grading Tampa Bay’s clinching 3-1 victory in Game 5

TAMPA — Closers.That's what the Lightning looked like as it closed out the New Jersey Devils in five games with a 3-1 win Saturday.Nikita Kucherov's star power blazed again, the defense controlled the game and not even Jersey goaltend...
Published: 04/21/18
Updated: 04/22/18
Maple Leafs force Game 6 with Bruins

Maple Leafs force Game 6 with Bruins

BOSTON — Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk scored 1:19 apart in the second period, and then the Maple Leafs killed off a 5-on-3 and three more power plays in a row to beat the Bruins 4-3 in Game 5 on Saturday night and avoid playoff eliminatio...
Published: 04/21/18
Lightning-Devils: How the NHL’s top offense went on the defensive

Lightning-Devils: How the NHL’s top offense went on the defensive

TAMPA — It was a couple of days after the Lightning beat the Bruins at home late in the regular season when associate coach Rick Bowness talked about how the defensive effort used in that shutout victory was the one the Lightning would need in ...
Published: 04/21/18
Rookie? Lightning D Mikhail Sergachev’s playing like a seasoned pro

Rookie? Lightning D Mikhail Sergachev’s playing like a seasoned pro

TAMPA — Pardon Mikhail Sergachev if he isn't so good at one of hockey's greatest traditions. After all, growing a Stanley Cup playoff beard isn't easy when you're still just a teenager.As he stood in the Lightning locker room Saturday evening w...
Published: 04/21/18
Roger Mooney’s takeaways from the Lightning’s first-round series

Roger Mooney’s takeaways from the Lightning’s first-round series

TAMPA — In the postseason, teams want to bank days off so they are as fresh as can be for the next round. That's why it was so important for the Lightning to close out Jersey in five. The fewer the games, the less wear and tear on the body, les...
Published: 04/21/18
Lightning stays patient, even through 0-for-5 power-play drought

Lightning stays patient, even through 0-for-5 power-play drought

TAMPA — The Lightning so dominated the second period Saturday that the Devils had more penalties (five) than shots on goal (four), and yet Tampa Bay was unable to build on a 1-0 lead as they sought to clinch the opening-round series.Nowhere was...
Published: 04/21/18
Nikita Kucherov’s goal sets Lightning playoff series scoring record

Nikita Kucherov’s goal sets Lightning playoff series scoring record

TAMPA — After clinging to a 1-0 lead for more than two periods Saturday, the Lightning got a long-awaited cushion — and ultimately the winning goal — when Nikita Kucherov scored with 7:33 left in the final period of a 3-1 victo...
Published: 04/21/18