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Lidstrom: Lightning's Victor Hedman growing into star

by Dan Rosen / Tampa Bay Lightning

CHICAGO -- Nicklas Lidstrom couldn't get over Victor Hedman's size when he met the hulking Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman for the first time during a visit by the top prospects for the 2009 NHL Draft visit at the Stanley Cup Final in Pittsburgh.

"I heard lots of great things about him before I met him through some of the scouts and people in Sweden that he had great potential and was really a gifted player that could be a top player, and I knew he was going to be a high draft pick. But my first impression was the size he had," Lidstrom told by phone from Sweden on Tuesday. "Being 18 years old and having that size, that's a big advantage. But you've got to be able to handle it too.

"He seems able to do the best with it."

Hedman, all 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds of him, has been at his best during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and particularly through three games against the Chicago Blackhawks during the Stanley Cup Final. He arguably has moved to the front of the line of Tampa Bay's Conn Smythe Trophy favorites with his performance on the biggest stage.

His spectacular vision, passing and skating were on display during Game 3 as he set up two of Tampa Bay's goals, including Cedric Paquette's winner, to help the Lightning to a 3-2 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Tampa Bay leads the best-of-7 series 2-1 heading into Game 4 on Wednesday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). Hedman has four assists in the past two games, both Lightning wins. He has one goal and 13 assists in 23 games in this year's playoffs.

"It's great to see," said Lidstrom, who only watches highlights of the games because of the early morning start time in Sweden. "It's great to see him develop into the type of player that he had great potential of being. He's only 24 years old too, so he hasn't even hit his prime yet and he's playing like a veteran out there. That's been really enjoyable to watch."

Hedman also remembers his first meeting with Lidstrom.

"I was really nervous," he said. "I don't remember what questions I asked."

He didn't really have to ask anything. Hedman watched Lidstrom for years as a kid growing up in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden. Hedman studied Lidstrom and tried to emulate some of what he did for the Detroit Red Wings.

"He's such a legend," Hedman said of Lidstrom. "It's impossible to try to compare yourself to someone like that. But I tried to look at his game and take some things from his game and put it in my own game. That's something I did growing up and I still do it now."

Hedman's size and skating ability are reminiscent of Lidstrom, but took longer to hone. Hedman's growth became about his coordination, and meshing that size with his skills to play at an elite level.

It clearly took him some time, and Hedman fought his way through some injuries too, including a broken finger that required surgery early this season and kept him out for 18 games.

"You have to be patient," Lidstrom said. "You can't expect everything to fall into place at once. I'm sure he had a lot of pressure too, being picked second overall and having those high expectations. But he's been staying the course and just getting better and better. Now we're seeing the fruit of that."

It was evident in Game 3.

Hedman made a superb 120-foot slap pass onto the tape of Ryan Callahan's stick to send the forward in for Tampa Bay's first goal at 5:09 of the first period. He later carried the puck through the neutral zone, into the offensive zone and to the left of the net before sending a pass back to the slot that Paquette deflected in for the game-winner with 3:11 remaining in the third period.

He also had the rush up the ice and the pass that set up defenseman Jason Garrison for the winning power-play goal in Game 2.

"He's got great feet and it's hard to stop him when he's coming with that speed," Lidstrom said. "He's got good hands as well. I've seen on more than a couple of occasions when he's jumping up in the play. He pushes the other team to back off with his speed."

Lidstrom said Hedman's maturity is another reason why he's having success this postseason.

"He's making the right plays at the right time," Lidstrom said. "He's joining the rush when there is an opportunity. And he's playing a lot of minutes. You've got to pick your spots when you join the rush. But he's making the right times to do it and making plays on top of that too."

All of this has prompted Lightning coach Jon Cooper to call this postseason Hedman's coming-out party.

"It took him a few years," Cooper said, "but Victor Hedman's arrived."

That's not news to his teammates.

"He's a monster," left wing Brenden Morrow said. "Like [Cooper] said, this is his coming-out party. We've got to see it and witness it for most of this season. The rest of you all are getting to see it now."

Lidstrom, from several time zones away, has liked what he's seen as well.

"You can tell he's playing with confidence," Lidstrom said. "He has matured as a player and the confidence is there too. Sticking with what you're good at and working hard at things to develop and get better, he's been doing those things. It's impressive to see."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

Author: Dan Rosen | Senior Writer

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