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Victor Hedman a worthy Norris Trophy finalist

Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns looks at Victor Hedman's terrific 2016-17 season

by Bryan Burns / TampaBayLightning.com

Victor Hedman just completed the finest season ever for a Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman.

Reading through Hedman's list of achievements from 2016-17 is daunting.

Better settle in.

Hedman became Tampa Bay's all-time points leader for a defenseman with his second period assist on Jonathan Drouin's game-tying power-play December 17 at Edmonton. Hedman now owns 301 career points. Dan Boyle sits in second on the Lightning list with 253. Hedman (236 career assists) also passed Boyle (187) and took over the Bolts' No. 1 spot for d-man assists on November 10 versus the Islanders.

Video: ARI@TBL: Hedman hustles to net breakaway chanceThe previous benchmark season for any Lightning defenseman would have to be Roman Hamrlik's 16 goal/49 assist/65 point campaign in 1995-96.

Hedman well outpaced Hamrlik this season, setting career highs for goals (16), assists (56) and points (72), his assist and point totals better than any other blueliner in the 24 seasons of Lightning hockey.

What about league-wide? How did Hedman stack up?

On the power play, assists-wise, he was without equal. His 29 helpers with the man-advantage paced the NHL. He ranked second in the league for power-play scoring (33) behind only Washington's Nicklas Backstrom (35).

The Lightning scored more power-play goals (62) than any other team in the NHL, largely because of Hedman.

"Heddy, he's a horse," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said during his exit day interview. "I think it doesn't surprise us in this room because we know what he is, but obviously from an offensive-numbers perspective, he was so good on the power play that that helped spike the numbers for sure. That's where I think for him he gained a lot of confidence was quarterbacking the power play and really utilizing his shot, his passing ability."

Video: MIN@TBL: Hedman finishes Drouin's cross-ice feedHedman led all NHL defenseman for assists and ranked fourth overall in the league. His 72 points were second among league blueliners, trailing only San Jose's Brent Burns (76), and tied for 14th among all players.

He was 15th in the league - and first on the Bolts - for time on ice (24:30).

He didn't shy away from putting himself in harm's way either, his 132 blocked shots the most on the Lightning by 30 blocks.

At the season's midpoint, the league's hockey operations staff recognized Hedman's brilliance and selected him for his first NHL All-Star Game.

Now, with the season complete, Hedman can add one more bullet point to the burgeoning 2016-17 resume:

Norris Trophy finalist

Friday evening, the NHL announced Hedman was one of three candidates for the league's top award for a defenseman, joining Burns and Ottawa's Erik Karlsson. The winner will be announced at the 2017 NHL Awards in Las Vegas on June 21.

"I'm extremely humbled and honored to be nominated for this year's Norris Trophy," Hedman said when learning of the accomplishment. "I'd like to thank my teammates, coaches and the Lightning fans for their support this season. I look forward to being in Vegas with Brent and my good friend Erik this summer."

Video: CAR@TBL: Hedman snaps in his second goal for OT winSomething too to consider about his remarkable year: Hedman spent about half the year not paired with Anton Stralman, his defensive partner for the past two-and-a-half seasons.

Almost immediately after Jake Dotchin was recalled from AHL Syracuse on Tampa Bay's six-game West Coast swing in mid-January, Hedman paired with the rookie and helped him assimilate into the league.

Dotchin finished the season with 11 assists, tied for third-most among Lightning blueliners despite playing in just 35 games.

Hedman continued to produce at a blistering pace with Dotchin as well and proved he can put up big numbers with just about anybody next to him while also showing he can be a veteran mentor to younger blueliners .

"I think it was a big year too for a lot of guys and Heddy being one of them where they took on more of a leadership role because unfortunately we had a lot of leaders that were out of the lineup," Stamkos said. "That was something that I think Heddy wanted to evolve into and he took a step forward in that and (the media doesn't) necessarily see that stuff in the room, but we all know what Heddy can do on the ice. He's one of the best defensemen in the world and we're lucky to have him, but he took on more of a leadership role and I think that helped his game too. He was counted on more, relied upon more and he stepped up."

Video: TBL@DAL: Hedman bags PPG for his second tallyThe best news for Bolts fans?

At 26 years old, Hedman is just entering the prime of his career.

His eight-year contract extension at $7.875-million per season kicks in this offseason too, meaning he'll be wearing a Lightning jersey while he goes through those prime career years.

And he's eager to prove his new high-dollar contract is a worthy investment for the Lightning.

"That's going to be something I'll keep working on this summer is trying to improve as a player and keep working on my game and trying to become even better," Hedman said during his exit day interview on April 10. "For me personally, it's easy when you play with so many good players. You just try to be yourself and play your game hard every night. When you're put in a position to produce, you have to produce. That's what I have to do going forward."

Scary thought for the rest of the NHL.

An even better Victor Hedman

The Lightning organization and its fans have known what they've had in the Swedish defenseman for several years now.

The rest of the hockey world is finally catching up.

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