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Hedman a one-time two-sport star

by Adam Kimelman
TORONTO -- It's pretty unusual for a 6-foot-6, 220-pound person to move as well as Victor Hedman does.

The Swedish defenseman credits his background as a soccer player for his great agility and speed.

Players as big as Hedman sometimes can be clumsy during their developmental years, but some of the skills he learned on the pitch have carried over onto the ice.

"When I was younger I didn't have too much control of my body and soccer really helped me controlling the ball," Hedman told "That really helped me get more coordination."

All that coordination, balance and agility certainly has served him well on the ice. Hedman is NHL Central Scouting's top-ranked European skater for the 2009 Entry Draft, and he's a sure bet to be one of the first two players picked when the teams convene in Montreal on June 26-27.

Hedman started playing soccer at age 5, the same age he took up hockey. He played both sports competitively until he was 14, when he had to choose one sport over the other.

"I had to quit when I was 14 because it's tough to play two such high-level sports," he said. "I chose hockey and I'm not sad that I did."

Here's what the Swedish national soccer team is missing out on -- a giant striker with good speed and a nose for the net.

"I played on top as a striker," said Hedman. "Some games I scored seven goals. I always scored a lot of goals -- was close to maybe 16, 17 a season."

Soccer was as much a part of Hedman's summers growing up in Ornskoldsvik as hockey was his winters. But with winters in Sweden lasting about eight months, it made choosing hockey as his profession a bit easier.

"I was coming up on the age when the real business starts, the first national teams, the first junior tournaments," Hedman said. "I had to choose and I thought I could be something in hockey and I'm real glad I chose hockey."

Hedman still plays soccer with friends in the summer -- as a goalie. In fact, he's playing July 18 at home in a game organized by St. Louis Blues forward Alexander Steen. He still follows the game and counts himself as a passionate Manchester United fan.

"I just play soccer for fun now," said Hedman. "I know what to do to improve my skills on the ice and it doesn't include soccer too much. Playing around with the ball is fun, and I use it to keep up coordination and skills, but that's just for fun."

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