TAMPA — Captain Steven Stamkos is the Lightning's best player, its biggest star.
Goalie Ben Bishop might be its most valuable, especially come playoff time.
But often the player that stirs the drink for the Lightning is defenseman Victor Hedman, the 6-foot-6 230-pound Swede who can spark the highest-scoring offense with his skating ability.
"If you watch, a lot of the way our team plays, it's the way 'Heddy' is going," coach Jon Cooper said. "When he gets his legs moving and he's engaged, our team kind of feeds off that. And for the most part, that's the way Heddy's been. That's why we've had some success."
Friday's 3-1 win over the Red Wings was a perfect example. Hedman set up the Lightning's first two goals and was plus-3 while logging a team-high 22 minutes, 18 seconds of ice time. Cooper called him the "best player on the ice."
"To have that rare combination of size and ability to skate, it's pretty amazing," Stamkos said. "When he's playing like that, everyone sees that, and he pushes us, he leads that way. When he's jumping into the play, when he's getting physical, when he's in your face — he does it all."
Despite missing six weeks with a fractured finger, Hedman, 24, has 10 goals, three shy of his career high, set last season. He has four points in the past two games heading into tonight's matchup with the Bruins at Amalie Arena.
Hedman's 10th goal came in highlight-reel fashion Monday night against Montreal. Hedman took a pass in his zone and sent the puck to Alex Killorn at the blue line before blowing past two Canadiens and finishing the give-and-go with a partial breakaway against Carey Price.
"That's the way I want to play," Hedman said. "Not every time you're going to get a breakaway, but if you have the chance, I'm always going to be one of those guys that jump into the play. That's what I want to do, play the 200-foot game. That's my game."
That's how Hedman played growing up in Sweden and what helped make him the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2009 by the Lightning. Hedman said he had some "flaws" defensively coming into the league, but he has continually improved, putting it all together last season, his fifth, which was the best of his career.
"Doesn't matter how good you are, it takes a long time to become what you're projected to be," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "I think that's a message for all of us. Sometimes we get a little impatient with our kids. Unless you're a super-superstar, it takes you a while in this league to be good. Just goes to show you how tough the league is. Obviously Hedman is a good player."
Hedman, a veteran of 385 games, appeared to take another step to start this season, racking up three goals and seven points in his first three games before getting hurt Oct. 18 in Vancouver. He returned in late November. He said it took 10 to 15 games before he felt great again, 17 before he scored another goal.
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Hedman said he focused on defense first, becoming a force, but is now back to playing his two-way game.
"He's one of the best defensive skaters in the league, if not the best," Bishop said. "He's doing it all right now, and it's fun to watch."
Contact Joe Smith at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.