Only the most ardent Mighty Ducks followers can recall the Jonathan Hedstrom who played four games for Anaheim during the 2002-03 season. But even casual fans have noticed the 28-year-old Hedstrom, a native of Sweden, during games at the Arrowhead Pond and on Ducks highlights this season.
There was Hedstrom netting his first career NHL goal in October against Phoenix, a shorthanded goal he celebrated by animatedly pumping both fists in the air before being mobbed by teammates.
There was Hedstrom scoring an empty-net goal to clinch an epic 3-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings, giving the shot some extra punch as he slammed it in the back of the net.
And there Hedstrom has been all season, regularly clearing the puck as a checking wing for a Ducks penalty-killing unit – with the help of fellow Swede Samuel Pahlsson – that has become one of the best in the NHL.
During the time between Hedstrom’s first tour of duty with the Ducks and the current season, he honed his game back home in the competitive Swedish Elite League. Last year, thanks to the NHL lockout, he was joined on his Timra IK squad by NHL veterans Henrik Zetterberg of Detroit, Fredrik Modin of Tampa Bay and Miikka Kiprusoff of Calgary. As a result of playing with and against that top competition, Hedstrom came back to the Ducks as a self-described “different player” than the rookie of two seasons ago.
Hedstrom, who lives with wife Helene and one-year-old daughter Tilly (named after Jonathan’s grandmother), recently sat down after a Ducks practice to discuss the thrill of his second chance with the Ducks.
What is the biggest difference between this season and the first time you played with the team?
The biggest thing is that now I’m prepared to play on a regular basis. I’m playing almost 17 minutes every game, so that’s a big difference. It’s much easier. I also think I’m a more mature player and person. I think I'm more ready now than last time.
Was it important to get a lot of ice time in Sweden to prepare you to come back to this level?
Yes, I think so. I played a lot there, played in two world championships and I think that’s why I’m a better player now. That was a big difference. I played on the same line with Zetterberg and Modin and it was fun. I really learned a lot from those guys. A lot of it is what you learn off the ice. They just show you how to be a good guy, like Teemu [Selanne] does here, like dealing with the fans and things like that. I think that’s important.
Was it more meaningful that you were able to come back to the Ducks?
It was nice, except that Andy McDonald was here. [McDonald happened to be standing nearby and replied, “That’s actually the real reason he wanted to come back.”] It was really good to come back here. When I was home, I told my mom that I need to go back there and show what I can do – for myself too. I know I can play. Plus, I had been here before and knew a lot of the guys. And I like living here. It’s nice. You can’t complain about much here.
You have established yourself as a key penalty-killer for the Ducks. What is the key to killing an undermanned situation?
It’s really all about reading the game. You learn as you go. I know what Sammy [Pahlsson] is going to do and what [Keith] Carney is going to do and everyone else. I think it takes a while to get used to it and that’s why we weren’t great at it in the beginning. It was a new structure and some of these guys played in other systems before.
Is there a certain thrill that goes with killing a penalty?
It’s real nice. It gives you confidence too, just like scoring and passing. Those aren’t the only important things in the game.
Do you have a connection with Samuel?
I knew him before and played with him on the World Championship team back home. He’s easy to play with and he’s strong. Plus, we both speak Swedish, so that helps. He’s my closest friend on the team.
Was it a relief to get your first career goal?
The first goal I ever had on the national team and the first goal I had here both felt the same. It was big. Not everybody gets a chance to score in the NHL. I don’t remember exactly what happened but I think Sammy took the shot and I got the rebound and put it in. It was a lucky shot, but I’ll take it.
Have you had a chance to see a replay of your celebration?
I’ve seen it. You don’t know what you’re going to do in a situation like that. I was so happy. That was really fun.
What’s the best thing about playing at this level?
The best part is competing against the best and just being around the guys you used to idolize. To see these guys up here is great. They’re regular people. Meeting someone like Teemu is unbelievable. He is just a great guy.
How does the style of play compare to playing in Sweden?
It’s definitely faster, it’s more physical, it’s just better. It takes a while to get used to. Also, the rinks are smaller here. They’re huge back home. But it’s more my kind of game here.
What was going through your mind just before scoring that empty-netter against Detroit, which you shot a little harder than normal?
I was like, I’m really going to put this one in. I missed the net on the first shift in that game and Zetterberg had said something to me about it. Rob gave me a great pass at the end there and I thought, Now I’m going to really put it in. That’s why I hit it a little harder. It was a great. I haven’t had a lot of empty-net goals. Those are the easy ones.
Was it any more special that it came against a team like Detroit?
Oh yeah [smiles]. For sure.
What are your hopes for the rest of this season?
I just want to score more goals, kill more penalties, make the playoffs. Winning is the important thing. It’s much more fun.
This article can be found in the current edition of Ducks Digest - the official game day program of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. You can pick up a free Ducks Digest at every Ducks home game at the Arrowhead Pond.