LOS ANGELES — Being the second overall pick often carries lofty expectations.
For a defenseman, those expectations might carry a bit more weight.
For Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman those expectations have followed him since being selected second overall in the 2009 draft.
“I think it's hard for anybody to live up to (being the second overall pick), but probably a little bit more so for defensemen because they will never have the points to show like a forward,'' Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said.
Now in his fifth season, Hedman is beginning to showcase the complete package that made him the No. 2 pick.
“When I come into a situation like (this) I don't look at them as the No. 2 pick overall. I look at them as what kind of a player is he now. What can you do to help the hockey club,'' said Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness, who spent the previous seven seasons in Vancouver and rarely saw Hedman play in person. “So from my perspective and looking through those eyes, I've been very, very impressed with everything this kid does.''
Entering tonight's game at Los Angeles, Hedman has three goals — two short of his career high — to lead Lightning defensemen and is second in average ice time at 21 minutes, 23 seconds per game while taking on top lines on a nightly basis. His all-around game is starting to come into focus, something the 22-year-old feels he has been developing during his first four seasons in the league while playing under three different coaching staffs. But the belief he could become the player he is starting to show never wavered.
“You hear a lot of comments that you haven't scored enough points or stuff like that but you have to make sure that you don't listen too much about that and you focus on developing your game and work into being a player that you know you can be,'' Hedman said. “The team has never doubted me, which I have felt they have always supported me in the way I play and I developed. I know that it takes time for defensemen usually to develop into their full potential. So that's just been my approach every year and all these years. You always want to contribute and it feels like this is the year that I have been contributing in both ends of the ice.''
In recent weeks Hedman has really stepped up his game.
Since a minus-5 night against Boston on Oct. 19, Hedman has been a plus or even player in eight of 12 games. All three of his goals have come in that span as well as a pair of multi-point games, matching his total from last season.
“He makes good plays, he's improved defensively (and) he plays really hard,'' veteran defensemen Sami Salo said. “I think he's getting up there among the league's best defensemen. He's a young guy, he's a big body but skates like the wind.''
That speed is one of the strengths Cooper wanted to see Hedman utilize more often, an area Cooper has seen improvement by leaps and bounds. “He's a one-man break out when he gets (the puck) and he rarely has to worry about a guy picking his pocket from behind because they can't catch him,'' Cooper said. “I think when these guys start to trust their speed they become better players and more reliable players. And Heddy jumping into plays, that was an easy one for us but it's just timing when to jump into the holes because he can be so fast he can almost catch our rush. Sometimes we don't want him to catch the rush, we want him to be that second wave coming in. But he's been great for us especially these last five or six games. He's just playing at a different level right now.''
Hedman has also recently started playing on the top power play unit, perhaps symbolizing his arrival as a true all-around presence.
“I want to play in all situations every time, every game,'' Hedman said. “It's something I work for every day, every game, every practice. I always want to get better and that's always going to be my approach every year that I play.
“But it does feel good when you contribute at both ends of the ice. It doesn't have to be points or anything like that but you feel like you are making a difference out there. That's what I want to be every night, I want to be a force, I want to be a difference maker.''