LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Team Sweden star Victor Hedman did not make the impression he hoped for Tuesday night in his first appearance at the 2008 USA Hockey Junior Evaluation Camp Tournament.
Hedman was good in Sweden’s 3-2 victory against Team Blue in Tuesday’s nightcap, but he was not great. Good is usually good enough – especially in the middle of summer – but not when, like Hedman, you are trying to unseat Canadian wunderkind John Tavares as the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Hedman took a couple penalties trying to contain Team USA’s most effective forwards – James vanRiemsdyk and the speedy Kyle Palmieri – and he did not dominate on the offensive side of the puck.
Hedman admitted Wednesday that he could have been much better Tuesday night.
“Last night wasn’t a good game for me,” Hedman said. “I think I have to step it up tonight. But it was the first game at this level, so it’s understandable. But I really need to step up a bit and show everyone that I can play hockey.”
Trust us, Victor Hedman can play hockey, regardless of Tuesday night’s uneven showing. He started proving that Wednesday night when his game was more fluid and he was more involved despite the fact that his team absorbed a 7-1 pasting at the hands of Team USA Blue.
Hedman had the assist on Sweden’s only goal, going end-to-end on a power-play rush before settling the puck at the attacking blue line and finding defensive partner Erik Karlsson at the opposite point for a slap-shot goal.
But nothing Hedman does this week will impact his stock too much. He already has proven to many scouts that he is a potential franchise defenseman. Hedman is a mobile, 6-foot-6 defenseman who already is drawing comparisons to NHL standout Chris Pronger. At 17, he was playing full-time for MoDo in Sweden’s Elite League, a rarity in a league considered to be not that far removed from the caliber of the NHL. This season, he will see even more ice time with the senior team.
Hedman can already dominate a game with his brawn, skill set and hockey smarts. He is already far ahead of any other player for the No. 1 ranking among draft-eligible Europeans
Hence the talk of Hedman being in contention for the No. 1 pick in the Entry Draft come this June. Two years ago, that prestigious No. 1 slot was the sole province of Tavares, the high-scoring forward who has re-written the Ontario Hockey League record book while playing for the Oshawa Generals.
"I just need to play my game and then it is up to the rest of the world to see if I go first or last. To me, it doesn’t matter. To me, it is very important to have a good season. Hopefully, then, I will get to the top. But, for me, it is all about showing the club that will eventually take you (in the draft) that you really want to play in the NHL.”
-- Victor Hedman
“He’s a forward and I’m a D-man,” Hedman says. “It doesn’t matter to me if I go first or second or 10th or 30th. It’s a great honor to be picked first and my goal is to be No. 1; but if John Tavares goes first it’s good for him. I don’t see him as a rival.”
Right now, Hedman has bigger things to worry about. First and foremost, he wants to find his game here and turn in the dominating performances he has made his trademark at this level.
“I just need to play my game and people can say what they want,” he said. “I just need to play my game and then it is up to the rest of the world to see if I go first or last. To me, it doesn’t matter. To me, it is very important to have a good season. Hopefully, then, I will get to the top. But, for me, it is all about showing the club that will eventually take you (in the draft) that you really want to play in the NHL.”
Hedman says he wants to play in the NHL sooner rather than later.
“It’s my goal to play in the NHL as soon as possible,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes, but hopefully I will have a good season here and go to the NHL as soon as possible.”
Judging by the testimonials from teammates and opponents alike, Hedman’s dream is not that far off.
Team USA’s vanRiemsdyk, the No. 2 selection in the ‘07 draft, has already gone head-to-head against Hedman on a number of occasions during international competition. Tuesday night was just the latest in what could be a running battle for years to come. Despite getting a goal and drawing a key penalty on Hedman in the game, vanRiemsdyk was still impressed with the big Swedish defenseman.
“You try not to worry about who you are out against out there, but obviously he is a guy that I played against a little bit internationally and have heard a lot about him,” vanRiemsdyk said. “He’s a guy that plays huge out there, good skills, skates really well for a big man.
“The way he plays out there, he looks like a veteran. He’s really poised. Watching Sweden last year, he was already one of their best players. He plays in the Swedish Elite League too, so he gets a good test there.”
Swedish forward Simon Hjalmarsson has played with Hedman for years. He has watched the big man toy with opposing forwards on a regular basis and control the offensive flow with his ability to handle the puck both in transition and in the attack zone. He says the sky is the limit for Hedman.
“He’s a really good player,” says Hjalmarsson, property of the St. Louis Blues. “He plays in the elite league and gets a lot of minutes. He’s got it all as a hockey player. I think this is one of his first times on the ice this year and when you have that big body like him, it takes a while to get it going. I think he’s going to be even better as we go forward.”
Judging by the improvements Hedman made in just 24 hours in Lake Placid, it’s a safe bet that we will all see a much better player when the World Junior Championship arrives in Ottawa in late December.