TAMPA — Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman might be having his best season yet, and that’s saying something given the consistency the consensus Norris Trophy contender has shown in recent years.
Tuesday, Hedman celebrated a major milestone. His assist on Steven Stamkos’ power-play goal in the third period of a 4-3 victory over the Stars gave Hedman 500 career points. He became the first defenseman and just the fifth player in team history to reach that mark.
Over the past five seasons, no NHL defenseman been more productive offensively than Hedman. His 0.85 points per game since 2016-17 is higher than than any other player at the position. His 27 points this season lead all defensemen.
Whether it’s quarterbacking the power play, jumping into a play or setting up a teammate, Hedman’s offensive mindset is rare for a defenseman. He continues to make a huge impact defensively, as well.
“I don’t know how to say it, but Heddy in the last few years has really grown into a complete player,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “And to me, he’s one of the best, if not the best defenseman in the league. And he shows it night in and night out at such a tough position to play. And to watch these guys hit milestones, it’s really gratifying.”
After coming up empty during Monday’s loss to Nashville (of his seven shots, two missed the net and two others were blocked), Hedman joked that he went into Tuesday’s game looking to contribute more as a distributor.
“Looking at the last game, I felt like it wasn’t going to be from a goal,” Hedman said with a smile. “So it’s a good thing I passed the puck (Tuesday).”
With the Lightning nursing a one-goal lead midway through the third period, Hedman flipped a backhand pass to Brayden Point from the near boards just inside the blue line. Point skated toward the slot, drawing attention from the Stars’ penalty killers and passed to Stamkos in the left circle.
Stamkos turned down a shot, flicking the puck back out to Hedman at the point, and Hedman returned a touch pass to Stamkos for a one-timer that beat Dallas goaltender Jake Oettinger top shelf.
“Obviously, good things happen when you’re trying to find 91 (Stamkos) for a one-timer,” Hedman said. “And we had a lot of good looks on that power play, we got some zone time, and it felt like it was just a matter of time before we scored. It was a good play by Pointer, first of all, he gave it to Stammer, he gave it to me and I gave it straight back to him.
“It means we’ve been going at it for a long time to get that milestone, but it means a lot,” Hedman continued. “It’s very special, and it’s one of those things that you don’t really pay attention to until it’s close. It’s one of those things that I put pressure on myself ... to be one of those guys that produces offensively.”
Hedman became the 11th active defenseman to accumulate 500 career points and the fourth quickest active defenseman, needing just 790 games to reach the milestone. Only four other Lightning players — all forwards — have more points than Hedman: Marty St. Louis (953), Vincent Lecavalier (874), Stamkos (859) and Nikita Kucherov (547).
“I’ve seen that kid get a lot of points, and some big ones,” Cooper said. “So 500 points for (anyone) — first of all, 500 games, is a lot, 500 of anything is quite a milestone. And how apropos that it comes off a one-timer from Stammer, his buddy. So, it’s pretty cool how it all played out.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
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