The two were among the top four players selected at this summer’s NHL Entry Draft, with Hedman going second to Tampa Bay and Kane, a Canadian forward, going fourth to Atlanta. So it happened coincidentally that the two made their NHL debuts on the same night at Philips Arena.
In the second period, as the strong-skating 6-foot-1, 180-pound Kane bore in on the Lightning goal, he noticed that it was the 6-6 Hedman whom he had beaten by a stride. Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith knocked the puck off Kane’s stick, but it went right to his Thrashers’ teammate Rich Peverley who made the score 4-0, giving Kane his first NHL point in the process.
Kane, resplendent in a lavender dress shirt, chuckled after the game at the recognition that it was Hedman.
"When I looked up I saw it was him and we’re pretty good buddies," he said. "It was kind of funny to get it against him."
As debuts go, score Kane the winner in Atlanta's 6-3 victory at Philips Arena. His father, mother, two sisters, grandmother and billet parents were on hand, which he said made the night "special." Both players had assists, but Kane was plus-1 in only 11:09, as Thrashers coach John Anderson sparingly doled out his rookie’s ice time.
Conversely, Lightning coach Rick Tocchet had no such reservation with Hedman, who was minus-2 in playing a minute-munching team-high of 26:27.
Anderson said he thought Kane’s play was "wonderful" on the team’s third line with center Marty Reasoner and Peverley.
"He's going to get more and more ice time as he gets experience in tighter contests," Anderson said. "I know my first year Roger Neilson didn’t want to put me in tough situations, but the problem is if you don’t put the person in tough situations then they don’t get that experience. I put him out on a penalty kill when we had a two-goal lead and he handled it real well. Just little bits and pieces. I don't want to throw everything at him the first game."
Thrashers general manager Don Waddell said he thought Kane started off nervously but said, "I thought as the game went on he really did some good things. You can see on the goal he creates opportunities with his speed."
It's one thing to make your NHL debut on a third line while playing only 11 minutes. It's another to play almost half the game at a more difficult position against the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk. Veteran Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier said Hedman plays "like a 30-year-old."
Hedman said he thought his debut was "so and so."
"It's hard," he said. "It's another level from the preseason games. We didn't have a good start. … It's a tough game and we'll take it with us."
Hedman said countryman Mattias Ohlund, his defense partner who had a tough night himself at minus-2, has been a big help.
"He's a great guy both on the ice and off the ice," Hedman said. "He helps me a lot around. … He’s easy to play with and easy to handle."
With Hedman and Kane playing in the same division, they should face each other countless times more in the future. But as firsts go, this one went to Kane.