The stars aligned for the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday, when the franchise landed potential No. 1 defenseman Victor Hedman with the second pick in the NHL Entry Draft.
While there was plenty of drama leading up to the first pick in the draft, things fell in line when the New York Islanders took center John Tavares with the first pick, leaving the Lightning with the chance to select the player they coveted.
Standing 6-foot-6, Hedman has the size that many teams look for in a defenseman, but what separates him from the rest of the class is Hedman's ability to skate for his size and ability to move the puck and play on the power play. For the past two seasons, Hedman has been playing in the Swedish Elite League against veteran players.
"He's a very mature guy on and off the ice. This is a guy who played 21 minutes a game on average against men in the Swedish Elite League," TSN analyst Bob McKenzie said of Hedman.
Lightning General Manager Brian Lawton was equally glowing.
"Victor's addition to the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight immediately makes us a better team," Lawton said in a statement. "In addition to his enormous size and great skating ability, he brings the Lightning a heightened maturity level for someone his age because of his two years of pro experience in Sweden. He brightens up our weakest area and we look for him to be a defensive anchor for a long, long time in Tampa."
"When you have a 6-foot-6 defenseman who can skate, those two attributes are huge," Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said. "You just don't get those types of guys in the league, big guys who can skate. We're excited to have him."
Not only is Hedman expected to be a major part of the future of the franchise, but the native of Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, is believed to be ready to step in next season and nail down a regular shift on defense. For the past two seasons, Hedman has been skating against grown men while playing for Modo in the Swedish Elite League, where he was logging more than 20 minutes per night.
"Obviously it helped a lot playing two years in the men's league. I know what it's all about," Hedman said. "But obviously the NHL is another level. I need to bring my game to another level as well. That's what I'm looking forward to as a challenge."
Hedman believes he is capable of making the move to North America next season to help out a defensive corps that used an NHL-record 23 different defensemen last season.
"I think I can help the team out next year," he said. "I feel I bring a good two-way game and it feels great to be part of this organization. It feels like a dream come true for me to be taken by this organization. I'm happy to be a part of it."
While Hedman will need to win a job during training camp to ensure a spot on the roster, Tocchet said the team will be patient with him, using much the same approach taken with last year's top pick, Steven Stamkos, after Tocchet took over the coaching position.
"The scouts say he can play now, but just like with Steven Stamkos, we're going to make sure we don't push him too hard and we get him acclimated to the NHL and the lifestyle in Tampa Bay," Tocchet said. "I think that's more important now. We'll address all that as it comes along."
Age/Birthdate: 18 (Dec. 18, 1990).
Hometown: Ornskoldsvik, Sweden.
On the ice: A rare athlete, combining size and strength with fluid skating ability. ...Spent the past season playing against adults in the Swedish Elite League, where he had 21 points - seven goals, 14 assists - and was named Rookie of the Year. Played for Team Sweden the past two years in the World Junior Championships, winning two silver medals. Frequently compared to Swedish defenseman and Detroit captain Niklas Lidstrom, a four-time Stanely Cup champion considered by many the best defenseman of his era.
Off the ice: Hometown of Ornskoldsvik has produced many NHLers, including Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund, Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Niklas Sundstrom. Loves to fly; his grandfather was a military pilot. Also played soccer until age 14.