-- The two biggest names going into the 2009 Entry Draft are London Knights center John Tavares and Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman.
North American fans have been watching Tavares since he was a 14-year-old phenom rewriting midget and junior hockey record books.
Fans on this side of the Atlantic got to see Hedman live for the first time at the 2009 World Junior Championship in Ottawa. All the advance billing given to the 6-foot-6, 220-pounder put expectations in the stratosphere -- and try as he might, not even Hedman could reach them. In six games for Sweden, Hedman was a plus-4, but had just 2 assists and three minor penalties. He also was booed unmercifully by the Canadian crowd every time he touched the puck in the gold-medal game after throwing a punch at Team Canada forward Angelo Esposito.
"I think people were disappointed in some of the things they saw at the World Juniors," Atlanta Thrashers General Manager Don Waddell told NHL.com. "He didn't play his best hockey."
That's a fact Hedman doesn't dispute -- but it's also one he doesn't dwell on.
"It didn't go as planned, but it was a great experience and I learned from it and I took it with me back home," Hedman told NHL.com.
Back home, Hedman plays on the top defense pairing for Modo. In 43 games, he had 7 goals and 21 points and played in all situations in one of Europe's top leagues. He routinely went against players 10 years older and excelled.
But at the World Juniors, against players closer to his own age, he struggled. Part of that could have come from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss seven games just prior to the tournament, but Hedman said he was healthy -- and pointed to the two games he played for Modo just before the tournament and the fact that he had 7 points in his first six games back with Modo as evidence.
"I saved (the offense) for Modo," Hedman joked.
Instead, Hedman believes his role at the World Juniors was the main reason for any perceived poor play.
"I played a more defensive role in the World Juniors," he said. "I was there for a more defensive part than I have back home. Maybe that was the biggest reason. I played whatever the position they put me in."
Hedman, regarded as a puck-moving defenseman in the mold of Jay Bouwmeester or a larger Nicklas Lidstrom, saw only opportunity in playing a different role at the WJC.
"I like to see myself as a two-way defenseman, so it's good to play defensively," he said. "It was good. It was a good experience and I really liked it and I learned from it."
Hedman said he doesn't have anything to prove to the NHL scouts he's meeting here at the Scouting Combine. Waddell said he wasn't looking for any justification in his interview with Hedman.
"He said maybe my timing was off a little bit, but he wasn't using the injury as an excuse. He said, 'I know I can play better than that,'" Waddell said. "You have to accept that. He's dealt with it head-on."
"I think people were disappointed in some of the things they saw at the World Juniors. He didn't play his best hockey." - -- Thrashers General Manager Don Waddell on Victor Hedman
While some may have downgraded Hedman based on his WJC performance, Waddell said Hedman should rank near the top of any team's draft list.
"In our mind I don't think that tournament is going to drop his value or increase his value either way," Waddell said. "As disappointed as some people were he didn't play better, if you put all the circumstances and had the opportunity to see him in the other games and leagues where he played, you realize he's a pretty complete package."Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Staff Writer