Lost amidst the hubbub surrounding super-prospect John Tavares is the fact there’s a pretty good 6-foot-7 puck-moving defenseman also available in this year’s NHL draft.
Victor Hedman showed off his wares at the draft combine this weekend and though his chances of being selected first overall are diminished by marketing factors (Tavares is the bigger name over here and the New York Islanders desperately need an identifiable player not named Rick DiPietro), he’s certainly no slouch.
If you’re a life-long Isles fan, look at it this way: Would you rather have Mike Bossy or Denis Potvin? It’s a pretty nice problem to have on your hands, but it looks like the sniper will win out.
But let’s accept Hedman as a strong No. 2 pick. All things remaining constant, that puts the big Swede in the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, a franchise with some impressive firepower up front, yet just two legitimate NHL defensemen on its roster.
Yep, heading into the summer, the Bolts can count Andrej Meszaros and Paul Ranger as their only signed blueline talent. Vladimir Mihalik and Kevin Quick are also under contract, but neither has established himself in the big league yet.
One of the reasons Tampa finds itself with the No. 2 overall pick is because the 2008-09 squad had a difficult time getting the puck up to dynamic forwards such as Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St-Louis and Steven Stamkos. Hedman can remedy this, but he should not be expected to do it alone.
He is, after all, still a teenager and needs both a mentor and a steady defense partner as he finds his way in the NHL. If the Bolts hope to avoid spoiling Hedman (as they nearly did with Stamkos early on), they must seek out serious help on the blueline.
The silver lining? Tampa doesn’t need a $6 million player for this role. In fact, a veteran stay-at-home defender will fit the bill and could be had for cheaper.
Playing with Modo in the Swedish Elite League this season, Hedman was paired with former NHL rearguard Mattias Timander. The 35-year-old veteran allowed Hedman to use his swift offensive capabilities and freelance a bit, while Timander largely guarded the back end should anything go pear-shaped. In an interview for THN’s Draft Preview issue, Hedman told me how vital Timander was to his success.
Now, is it completely out of left field for the Lightning to bring Timander himself over for a season or two? Maybe not. Assuming the Bolts can pry him away from Modo, Florida’s a pretty nice place to play in the winter.
If Timander’s not an option, there are certainly other current NHLers who should be on Tampa’s radar. Mattias Ohlund, the erstwhile Vancouver Canucks blueliner, is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Health has been a factor with Ohlund, but he is still a very capable defenseman and would serve as a good role model for his fellow countryman.
Another option, one who still has his Lightning jersey in fact, is Marek Malik. Like Ohlund, he’s destined for the open market as a UFA and can be the defensive ying to Hedman’s offensive yang. Malik has played in the league for well over a decade and would also help Hedman get his feet wet.
Obviously the Bolts need to sign some bodies, but Hedman has the chance to be a force in the league; now is not the time for a blueline “youth movement.” The Bolts have the offense and they have some intriguing goaltenders in Mike Smith and Karri Ramo. Skimping out on ‘D’ would represent the waste of a gift in Victor Hedman.
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Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Thursdays.
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