For the past few years, veteran defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk played on teams that had to tangle with the Tampa Bay Lightning. That meant game-planning for monster Bolts blueliner Victor Hedman and according to Shattenkirk, it was not a fun task.
“Any time you play a guy like him who plays as much as he does, you just want to make the game as hard on him as possible,” he said. “You try to be physical, try to take him off his game anyway you can, but it’s hard to do. He’s not a guy who is easily rattled. We realized, sometimes you just need to put the puck behind him because obviously you can’t skate through him very often. But there’s a reason he’s so consistent and as productive as he is, because there isn’t much to do to get him off his game.”
After stops in Washington and New York with the Rangers, Shattenkirk landed in Tampa this summer and he has opened the season playing alongside Hedman. Needless to say, it’s a lot more fun this way.
“Being able to play with him, you really gain an appreciation for everything he does,” Shattenkirk said. “I knew how great a skater he was and how much ground he covers, but I think a lot of people don’t realize how skilled he is with the puck and how great a shot he has. They’re all great assets that make him a Norris Trophy winner and probably a future one, as well.”
As for that 2018 Norris Trophy, Hedman says he keeps it at his parent’s house in Ornskoldsvik, the iconic little town in northern Sweden that also claims Peter Forsberg, the Sedin twins and Markus Naslund as famous hockey sons. Hedman still trains in ‘Ovik’ in the summer, where he keeps a home and continues to work on his speed and co-ordination.
“I’m not happy before we win it all,” Hedman said. “I’m always striving to be a better player. Still got some work to do in the D-zone. I need to be a little harder down low, boxing guys out. Maybe I can be more physical than I have in the past. Offensively, keep working on getting shots through and use my skating to the best of my ability. That’s when I’m at my best, when I use my skating.”
The thought of Hedman getting even better should be a scary one for opponents in the NHL. The Tampa Bay star has all the attributes you’d want in a No. 1 defenseman, but does so in an imposing 6-foot-6, 223-pound frame. He has been a first- or second team all-star the past three seasons and there’s no reason to doubt he’ll earn that honor again this year.
Naturally, there is a ton of pressure in Tampa Bay right now (oh, you hadn’t heard?) and as Hedman alluded to, nothing short of a Stanley Cup will slake his competitive thirst.
It’s a very small sample size, but through three games this year, Hedman has played an average of 22:19 a game, down nearly half a minute from last season. That’s also down substantially from his Norris year, when the big Swede logged nearly 26 minutes per night. But with Shattenkirk, Mikhail Sergachev and Ryan McDonagh joining the crew in recent years, Hedman doesn’t have to do everything at all times. And given the grind that is the Stanley Cup playoffs, that’s a good thing. If Hedman remains fresh throughout the 2019-20 campaign, the Lightning will have put themselves in an excellent position to exorcise the demons of playoffs past.
Something tells me that even with a Cup win, Hedman won’t slow down in his quest for excellency. But at least his parents would have a ring to keep his Norris Trophy company with at their house back in Ovik.
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