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Victor Hedman returns as an improved player following brief stint in Russia

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

Don’t get the wrong idea when listening to Victor Hedman speak about how it feels to be back in Tampa Bay.

The Lightning defenseman, who was back at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon on Wednesday for the first time following the conclusion of the lockout, arrived in town late Tuesday night and was running on just a few hours of sleep following a long flight back to the Bay Area from his home in Sweden.

“Got in late last night and I’ll probably be tired tonight.”

A little bit of jet lag perhaps?

“Exactly,” he added.

But then, came a moment of truth.

“It was great to see everyone again,” Hedman said. “I was eager to get back, so it wasn’t too hard to get up this morning.”

Teammates and fans alike in Brandon on Wednesday were sure glad he did though.

After making significant strides last season to improve his game, Hedman spent the past several months during the work stoppage playing with Barys of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, which outside of the NHL, he referred to as “the best league in the world to play in.”

His 19 assists ranked fifth in the league among defensemen at the time of his departure, while his 20 points in 26 games were good for 12th. He also averaged 21:44 of ice time per game, registered a plus-18 rating, and was so good in fact, that he earned a nomination to appear in the league’s All-Star festivities.

All around, “it was a good experience,” Hedman called it, but not to mention, a valuable one also.

Victor Hedman surveys the scene during informal practice at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum Wednesday.

It was overseas where Hedman logged significant minutes and earned time on the power play, an area in which he is seeking a more expanded role with Tampa Bay. The imposing 6-foot-6 blueliner last season had just four assists with the man advantage and averaged just 1:08 of power-play ice time, although since coming back from Europe, says he is an improved player ready to take on most of those same responsibilities.

“I’m more confident with the puck and I feel like I got a real big boost in the KHL playing on the power play,” Hedman said. “I need to get back to playing a more physical style over here, but I think I did take my game to a higher level.”

The time in Russia also afforded Hedman the opportunity to blend offensive creativity without sacrificing proper positioning on defense. His ability to read plays and see potential opposing scoring chances open up before they happen also has seemed to get better.

He is eager to be back, just as much as he is to get going with the start of the season, for which Hedman has big plans.

“It’s up to me now to prove to the coaches that I’ve improved as a player,” he added. “I want to be that guy all over the ice who makes a difference. I want to be relentless in both the offensive zone and still block a lot of shots,” Hedman said.

And if there’s one thing in particular that he is really looking forward to, it’s this:

“Doing whatever it takes to help this team win hockey games.”

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