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Sweden's Victor Hedman one to watch at 2009 NHL draft

Saturday, 01.03.2009 / 5:05 PM / News

The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - The main exports of Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, are listed as paper products, heavy machinery and ice hockey stars.

The NHL has been a beneficiary of the latter because of the exploits of Markus Naslund, Peter Forsberg and the Sedin twins Henrik and Daniel in the league.

Another potential star is emerging from that city of 30,000 people on the northern Baltic Sea.

Defenceman Victor Hedman just turned 18 on Dec. 18, yet he's already six foot six and 220 pounds. He can skate, shoot and pass the puck. His long reach and size make it hard to strip the puck from him.

In his second year playing against men for Modo of the Swedish Elite League, Hedman could be ready to play in the NHL next season.

What more could an NHL club ask for at the entry draft in June?

"He's a good one," said Goran Stubb, the NHL's director of European scouting.

The 2009 world junior hockey championship was seen as the stage where Canadian forward John Tavares and Hedman would battle for the hearts and minds of NHL scouts and determine which would be the No. 1 pick in Montreal.

Tavares, from Oakville, Ont., has been a standout player in Ottawa, while Hedman admitted after the preliminary round he hadn't been.

"I can be better in creating offence, but I think I've played a good defensive game," Hedman said. "It's not every game you can play at your top level, but I'm trying to."

Swedish head coach Par Marts felt Hedman could control the puck and pass it better, but Stubb had no complaints about the Swede's performance.

"When I guy is rated that high, No. 1 in Europe, people expect too much from him," Stubb said. "I'm 100 per cent satisfied. No mistakes."

Hedman suffered a separated shoulder in November. He played four games with Modo prior to the world junior championships and says the injury hasn't affected his performance in this tournament.

On the surface, it appeared Tavares was tightening his grip on the first overall selection. NHL scouts are less concerned with a player's statistics here in Ottawa, however, and more interested in a prospect demonstrating what kind of NHL player he can become in four or five years.

The club that picks first overall may decide a beefy, skilled defenceman with the potential to add more power to his game is too good to pass up. That would make Hedman just the second Swede to be drafted first overall after Mats Sundin (1989).

"You will see a guy who is six feet six tall and he has a fantastic reach," said Stubb of Hedman. "With that height, he doesn't really have to play that physical even if he has the body for it.

"He's living on his reach, on his understanding of the game. He's a very good passer, playmaker and he also has a good shot."

Hedman doesn't see the world junior as a duel with Tavares for draft day glory.

"No, I don't," he said. "There's a lot of good players. We have players on our team who are performing well, so I think it's more than just two players to compete for the first pick."

Tavares and Hedman were on opposing teams at last year's world junior hockey championship in Pardubice, Czech Republic, where Canada lost to the Swedes in the preliminary round, but beat them in overtime in the final.

"Obviously he's a good player and he's scored a lot of points in this tournament," Hedman said. "I knew before the tournament he was good on the power play and good with the puck and has good playing sense.

"You have to stay alert when he's on the ice."

Hedman keeps tabs on the Detroit Red Wings, because of the number of Swedes on their roster, and the Vancouver Canucks because of the Sedins. His hero is Red Wings defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom.

"He's a two-way defenceman and very good on the power play," Hedman says. "He can kill penalties a lot. He's a guy I look up to and every Swedish defencemen is looking at him."

While growing up in Ornskoldsvik, Hedman attended hockey camps run by NHL players who returned to his hometown in the summer.

"In the beginning I didn't know about the NHL, but in the last five to seven years, I've followed the NHL and seen how many players from my town have played there," Hedman said. "It's produced very good players like Forsberg and Naslund. They've helped me a lot and I really look up to the guys from my town."

Quote of the Day

It's a little different but it feels amazing. A new chapter in my life and I'm excited. It's been amazing. Better than I expected. The weather is great, the place is just amazing. I can't say enough good things about it. I'm glad to get the season going.

— Ryan Kesler on his transition to the Anaheim Ducks