European players often stay home for a year or more before coming over the NHL after they have been drafted.
“I want to be an NHL player next season,” Hedman said, during a trip to Tampa. “It’s just hard to not know what jersey I’m going to put on.”
That shouldn’t be any problem. A team will have a sweater ready to dress the 6-foot-6, 220-pound defenseman from Ornskolsvik, Sweden this fall after picking him with what is expected to be one of the first three picks of the NHL Entry Draft Friday in Montreal.
Hedman’s size, ability to play both ends of the ice and smooth skating would fit perfect with the Lightning, whose priority in the off season is to upgrade the defensive corps.
Although he is just 18 and defensemen sometimes take two, three, four years to develop, he has played against men for two years in the Swedish Elite League for MoDo. Hedman had seven goals, 14 assists and 52 penalty minutes in 43 games this season.
“I think that’s big for me,” said Hedman, whose partner with MoDo was often former NHLer Mattias Timander. “[Timander] had a big impact on my game.”
Said Bob McKenzie of TSN: “[Hedman} is 18, going on 19, going on 28.”
Some have called Hedman the Swedish Chris Pronger due to his size, but McKenzie said Hedman is not as “mean-spirited” as the Ducks defenseman. He is closer in style to a two-way player like current Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
“With the new rules [in the NHL], you have to be good on your skates,” Hedman said. “I’ve been working a lot on that. I like to be creative. I like to join the rush and be part of the play in the offensive zone, but obviously, I like to play a good two-way game. I can play in all different situations. I think that’s the one of my biggest strengths.”
Hedman said he began to follow the NHL more when he was about 13, just about the time the Lightning was winning the Stanley Cup.
“Ever since a couple years ago, I’ve been looking forward to coming to visit Tampa and visit Florida just to see how beautiful it is,” Hedman said. “From what I’ve seen right now, it’s a beautiful city and a really nice rink. I think wherever I go, it’s going to be fun.
“I’ve had the opportunity to talk to [Swedish] goalkeeper Johan Holmqvist, and he really liked it here. He had good things to say about Tampa as a town and a hockey club. I’ll go to whatever team picks me, but it would be great to be with the Tampa Bay Lightning.”
E.J. McGuire, the NHL’s Director of Central Scouting, said that Hedman is ahead of where Pronger was as a skater when he was picked fourth overall by the Hartford Whalers in 1993.
McGuire said whatever team selects him will most likely get a player the level of Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson for a few years while he develops and has potential to be as good as perennial Norris Trophy winner and countryman Nicklas Lidstrom down the road.
That sounds good to Hedman.
“He’s a great leader on the ice, and I can’t imagine how good he is in the locker room,” Hedman said of Lidstrom. “Just to see how calm he is with the puck and how he handles situations. He knows where to put the puck before he has it. His all-around game and his leadership [ability] are very big. I’m trying to [pattern] my game after him.”
Hedman, who went home to graduate high school after visiting Tampa, is looking forward to the next challenge.
“One of the things I want to do most is to come to a team that really believes in me and wants me to come over right away, “Hedman said. “It doesn’t matter if I go first, fifth or 20th.”