Though Victor Hedman is no stranger to the National Hockey League in his fifth season, the fact that he is actually the youngest defenseman on the blue line is often an afterthought.
Even Tampa Bay’s newest faces – Mark Barberio, Radko Gudas and Andrej Sustr – are all older than the 22-year-old from Ornskoldsvik, Sweden.
“I’m still young and I’m still learning,” Hedman said. “I think it was good for me to come to the league early and even though it was going to take time, it is starting to pay off.”
But this year, Hedman seems to be finding his stride, despite vital parts of their roster being absent.
Not only did he reach a new career-best for goals in a season (six) in his first three-point game since notching three assists versus the San Jose Sharks during the 2011-12 season this past week, but he is also exuding a confidence that has not always been associated with his play.
“I think he’s had the confidence from the get-go this year,” Sami Salo said. “He knows if he makes mistakes that he needs to forget about it and move on. That’s been the big key for him.”
“I’m not getting too high and too low when something,” Hedman said. “I’m just keeping my feet on even ground.”
With the ability to learn a lot from the veteran blueliners on the Bolts, especially Salo, who helps make up their defensive pairing, he has also matured as an all-around player.
Head coach Jon Cooper said while in the past, “if there weren’t any end boards, he would have kept going,” he is now thinking out everything he does in every scenario he is put in.
“The game has slowed down for him,” Cooper said. “He engages himself all over the ice and he has the confidence to make these plays and that’s where I think he’s really matured.”
Keeping that as part of his game everyday is now Hedman’s biggest challenge. If he can keep consistent, along with the rest of the team, Hedman and the Bolts are more likely to benefit.
His name may then surface with the rest of the most impacting defensemen in the league.
“It’s hard for me not to sit here and say he’s propelling himself into the upper echeoln of defensemen,” Cooper said. “If he can sustain this for a full season people are going to start talking individual rewards for him.”
When Cooper was asked if at this point in the season he suspected that six of his top nine forwards would be rookies, he of course said no, but is only “mildly surprised” of where they stand.
“Our general manager and scouts have done a pretty good job of getting players,” he said. “Our coaching staffs in the AHL and NHL have done a good job developing.”
The plan was not to bring some of these young skaters to the NHL as quickly as they have, but they have responded well and have kept the Lightning in a position to win.
“They’re not going to get worse, they’re only going to get better and that’s the shining light in this,” Cooper said.
ODDS ‘N ENDS
Forward P.C. Labrie (upper body) and defenseman Radko Gudas (upper body) did not practice with the team Saturday.
Forward Tom Pyatt’s return may not be as quick as he had hoped. Earlier this week Cooper thought he may be back by Tuesday, but it is now looking a few more weeks away.