Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher has a message for fans who think 20-year old defenseman Victor Hedman
will become some kind of dazzling offensive blue-line force someday.
It likely won't happen anytime soon, Boucher said, even though there is some untapped offensive potential in the 6-foot-6, 229-pound Hedman's game.
That eventually will emerge as Hedman matures, but the biggest reason the Lightning signed Hedman to a lucrative five-year contract extension Wednesday -- reportedly worth $4 million a season -- is because they're bullish on his all-round potential.
The Lightning see Hedman, who they chose with the second pick of the 2009 NHL Draft, as more in the mold of towering Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.
"He's a horse. He's a Chara-type player that's going to bring you some offense, but he brings you a lot more things. The focus of his game can't be run-and-gun and carry the puck on the blue line … that's not him." -- Guy Boucher
"He's never been a guy walking on the blue line with fakes and that fancy stuff," Boucher said Wednesday. "That's not him. People don't understand. He's a horse. He's a Chara-type player that's going to bring you some offense, but he brings you a lot more things. The focus of his game can't be run-and-gun and carry the puck on the blue line … that's not him. People are expecting that and they're expecting the wrong things."
What should they expect from Hedman?
A little bit of everything. He'll give his team some offense, he'll soak up a lot of ice time and provide some strong defense and he'll also give Tampa Bay a bone-jarring physical presence every time he goes over the boards.
"It's just a matter of time before the offense comes in, but we're not asking him for offense," Boucher said. "He's learned to play great defense and he's learned to play physical and log minutes against top players, and that was the main thing we wanted him to get last year and this year. He's learned to do that, so there is major progression and that's why we signed him."
Hedman had 3 goals and a career-high 26 points last season. He also added 6 points in 18 playoff games while playing more than 22 minutes a game in the Lightning's run to the Eastern Conference Finals. While they came up a win short of making it to the Stanley Cup Final -- losing to the eventual Cup champion Bruins in Game 7 -- Tampa Bay's long-term potential really started to show.
Hedman certainly is excited about what lies ahead for Tampa Bay.
"Five years is a long time and I'm just excited that they believe in me," he said of his new deal. "I want to stay there for a very long time. They have a very bright future down there with the new ownership and I think the fans are the best in the League. We've got almost a sold-out crowd every night, so I'm very excited."
He's also relieved. Hedman, who would have been a restricted free agent had he not signed before July 1, now can take his mind off his contract status and concentrate fully on playing hockey. He has 2 goals but a minus-7 rating in 21 games.
"It (the contract) has been going on a little while and we wanted it to come to an end, so I'm very happy about that and excited to be staying in Tampa for a long time," Hedman said. "This is the best fit for me. This is the place I want to play my NHL career."
As proof, consider that by signing for five years at such a young age, Hedman took what some might consider less than market value.
"I don't think there is a risk," he said of signing a long-term deal. "Money's not the first thing that (came) to my mind when I decided to play hockey. I just love this game and want to progress as a player and progress as a team. This is the best fit for me, and I'm very excited to be down there. It's a very good contract, I think, and I'm just very excited about this."
His teammates are, too.
"(He's) a great player," Stamkos said. "He's going to be a big part of our team for a long time. I think we all knew that when he got drafted and it wasn't really a surprise to anyone that he signed for the length that he did. There's not a lot of big, young, smooth-skating defensemen like that out there."
Aside from Hedman's emergence on the blue line, a number of things have happened in Tampa Bay that suggests the Bolts could be competitive in the Eastern Conference for a long time to come.
Stamkos has become one of the League's top offensive forces -- and also was rewarded with a pricey, long-term contract this past summer. Hedman's defense partner, 32-year old Eric Brewer
, was re-signed last summer to a new four-year deal after Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman picked him up in a mid-season trade with the St. Louis Blues.
Nineteen-year old rookie forward Brett Connolly
, the sixth pick of the 2010 draft, is contributing at an early age, with 4 goals and 8 points in 24 games. And then there's the constant presence of star forwards Martin St. Louis
and Vincent Lecavalier
, both of whom have gotten a spark out of the moves Yzerman has made since joining the club in May 2010.
In all, it's an exciting time to be a Lightning. While they currently are on the outside of the top eight in the East, they're only two points behind eighth-place Ottawa.
With Hedman on board, along with the rest of their talented roster, the odds of them making up that deficit are good.
"We know that on defense, that's an area where we're trying to rebuild and he's certainly the start of the rebuilding," Boucher said of Hedman. "We signed Brewer this (past) summer for four years and signing Hedman … those are good signings that will last us and help us. That's what we need to do. We need to rebuild and they're part of the rebuilding process."