One of the top prospects for the upcoming 2009 Entry Draft, Hedman had the opportunity to meet his idol, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, during a visit to Mellon Arena on Tuesday. Hedman is one of five top prospects for the 2009 Entry Draft who are taking in the Stanley Cup Final experience with a meet-and-greet with the Penguins and Red Wings.
On hand beside Hedman were John Tavares, Matt Duchene, Evander Kane and Brayden Schenn. All will attend Game 3 (8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio).
The playoff matchup will actually be the first NHL game that Hedman will see in person, and the fact he'll see several of his boyhood idols in action will make it all the more memorable. Hedman is the top-rated European skater on the draft board according to the NHL's Central Scouting.
The minute he entered the Red Wings' dressing room, Hedman's eyes got wide as he shook the hand of fellow countryman Tomas Holmstrom and worked his way around the tiny visitor's room. When he finally reached Lidstrom, it was a surreal moment. Both veteran and prospect spoke in English for the television cameras before quickly engaging in their native tongue.
Hedman smiled the whole time and posed for several pictures with Lidstrom, a six-time Norris Trophy award winner as the NHL's best defenseman.
"I'm happy for him," Lidstrom said. "I watched him play in World Juniors a little bit and thought he was a great defenseman. He's going to have a good career, and I wished him luck in the upcoming draft and when he starts coming over here to play as well."
Lidstrom laughed when asked if he thought Hedman was a little star-struck.
"I thought he handled himself pretty well actually," Lidstrom said. "We had a good conversation and he seems to be happy to be over here and have a chance to watch a Stanley Cup playoff game, so it's good."
Hedman, born in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, must have felt right at home with Swedish-born Wings Lidstrom, Holmstrom and Jonathan Ericsson offering their best wishes. The 6-foot-6 Hedman is projected to go among the first three draft picks later this month.
"I wasn't nervous -- we (Lidstrom and Hedman) spoke in Swedish and it was all good," Hedman told NHL.com. "They are all nice guys, so it was good to meet them. He asked me if I was coming over next year and we talked in Swedish about stuff back home. It was just nice to speak in Swedish to these guys."
Hedman and Tavares, the top-rated North American prospect, were both miked-up for sound and provided plenty of neat sound bites during the dressing room tours.
In the Pittsburgh room, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby asked Tavares if he and the other prospects were going to attend a Pirates' baseball game while in town. Crosby shook each prospect's hand before inquiring about how their time has been spent in Pittsburgh.
That's when teammate Maxime Talbot, whose stall sits next to Crosby, interrupted and asked the five youngsters what they were going to do after tonight's Game 3. They each shook their heads, wondering what was next.
"Well, I'll show you around the town," Talbot said with a smile and a wink.
The first Penguin to greet the prospects was center Jordan Staal, who isn't that far removed from making the tour himself.
"I wasn't nervous -- we spoke in Swedish and it was all good. They are all nice guys, so it was good to meet them. He asked me if I was coming over next year and we talked in Swedish about stuff back home. It was just nice to speak in Swedish to these guys." -- Victor Hedman
"I remember playing against Jordan Staal when I was 15 -- it was his draft year and I was in juniors (in 2005-06)," Tavares said. "It was cool to talk to him and it's hard to believe he's already played three years in NHL. It was nice to catch up with him."
Tavares and Duchene said it was refreshing to see players from both sides having so much fun only hours before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.
"It's the most important time of the year for these guys and you don't want to forget that but, at the same time, you want to enjoy the experience and they are," Tavares said. "It's amazing watching all the passes on the tape. Everyone is in place to do the drills and no one is missing assignments. Having good habits in practice are reasons these teams are so good."
On Monday, Duchene, No. 2 among North American skaters, was given his own personal tour of Mellon Arena by Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma. Duchene said his agent in Pittsburgh brought him to the arena and Bylsma just happened to be there, so the Haliburton, Ontario, native had the inside track on what to expect.
"I went into the dressing room and coach (Bylsma) happened to be there and he gave us a tour," Duchene said. "It was cool to see (Sidney) Crosby's stall. I'm a huge Crosby fan, but I never thought I'd be in awe the moment I saw his gear. I even got to hold his sticks and check out the curve and the flex.
"The passing of both teams and those little things they do during practice are exceptional," Duchene continued. "They go to the net hard and never give up on any drill. Those are things the best players do and everyone here is doing it."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.