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World Cup

Victor Hedman still has something to prove

Defenseman aims to show Swedish Ice Hockey Federation he's elite at World Cup

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

GOTHENBURG, Sweden -- It's absurd to think that Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman still has to prove anything to anybody in the NHL. In Sweden, it's Hedman who believes he has to prove something to his country's ice hockey federation. 

"It's two different birds," Hedman said Tuesday following Team Sweden's second practice of training camp at Scandinavium in advance of the World Cup of Hockey 2016. 

Hedman has a point.

The Lightning invested a lot in him by making him the No. 2 pick of the 2009 NHL Draft. He has blossomed into one of the best and most unique players in the League by combining his remarkable size (6-foot-6, 223 pounds) with his outstanding skating. 

They also invested a lot in Hedman by signing him to an eight-year, $63 million contract extension July 1. He still has one year left on his current contract, so the Lightning have Hedman signed through the 2024-25 season. He'll be 34 when he needs a new contract.

Video: Hedman on playing for Team Sweden in the World Cup

However, Hedman's appearance in the World Cup will be his first for Sweden since the 2012 IIHF World Championship, which he admitted "wasn't really my best tournament." 

He had one point in eight games and Sweden lost in the quarterfinals to the Czech Republic in a game played in Stockholm. That's not exactly proving himself to the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation. 

Hedman didn't play in the 2013 World Championship and was a surprising omission from the roster for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He didn't go to the 2014 World Championship and hasn't been available for that tournament since then because the Lightning have played deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

The World Cup represents his first opportunity to play for Team Sweden in a best-on-best tournament. So when you think about it that way, as Hedman clearly does, it's easy to see why he thinks he still has something to prove. 

Video: PIT@TBL, Gm6: Hedman keeps the puck out

"I really believe that I've taken steps since I last played [for Sweden]," Hedman said. "I expect to be one of those guys you can rely on in every situation. It's up to me to prove to the coaching staff that I'm ready to do that." 

In fairness, Team Sweden coach Rikard Gronborg said he doesn't think Hedman has any more to prove than anyone else on the roster, including the coaches. 

"We all have to prove something," Gronborg said. "I mean, that's why we're here. We need to prove something." 

Hedman and Gronborg both believe the World Cup is set up to allow the Lightning defenseman to be at his most impactful best. The key: NHL-size ice at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. 

When Hedman has struggled with Sweden it's been on the bigger international ice surface. He hasn't played on that ice in a long time and might struggle again if he had to. At the World Cup that won't be an issue. 

Video: NYI@TBL, Gm5: Hedman scores a pair in Game 5

"Victor has been a solid, solid player for quite some time now in the National Hockey League and now this is a National Hockey League tournament with a smaller rink," Gronborg said. "I don't think he has to go out and prove it because of his past; he has to be a very solid player for us and I think he's going to be that." 

If this were four years ago, maybe Hedman would feel he has to be more than that, especially since his appearances on the national team have been so rare. He doesn't feel that way now because of what he has accomplished in the NHL since the 2012 World Championship. 

Hedman has helped the Lightning reach the playoffs three times, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final last season. 

He's arguably been the League's most dominant defenseman in the playoffs the past two seasons when you combine how many games he's played (43), points he's earned (28), minutes he's played (1,089:23) and the impact he's had. 

"I don't feel like I have to prove anything to myself," Hedman said, clarifying what he said earlier. "I believe in the ability that I have. I just have to play my game and it's all going to be fine. 

"Last time I played [for Sweden] I was trying to do too much. For me it's all about keeping calm and playing with high intensity and playing to the strengths I have. Don't try to do too much." 

Just enough to prove himself, as crazy as that may sound.

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