Author: Jason Brough

Ben Bishop, Victor Hedman, Marian Hossa

‘It took him a few years, but Victor Hedman’s arrived’


CHICAGO — Those who’ve been watching closely know Victor Hedman’s been among the NHL’s elite defensemen for a little while now.

Those who haven’t been watching closely, well, those people sure know now.

Hedman was brilliant in Tampa Bay’s 3-2 victory over the Blackhawks, on center stage in the Stanley Cup Final.

The 24-year-old’s excellence included a mighty assist on the game’s winning goal, when, with just over three minutes remaining in regulation, he picked up the puck at his own blue line, rushed his giant frame through the neutral zone, went wide on Brent Seabrook and used his reach to sling a perfect pass to Cedric Paquette, who directed it into the Chicago net.

“I said to him after the game, ‘How do you find those plays, man?'” said his defensive partner, Anton Stralman. “He’s very optimistic in that way. Likes to join the rush, usually makes really good reads, when to go, when not to go.”

Hedman was drafted second overall in 2009, right after John Tavares. He jumped into the NHL right away, but not with the spectacular results that some rookies have enjoyed.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is the only player on the current roster that was on that 2009-10 team with Hedman.

“It’s tough to come into the league as an 18-year-old defenseman. I think that’s the toughest position to be put in,” said Stamkos. “Especially in the position that we were in. We weren’t a great team. He was getting some minutes against some quality competition, and our team was struggling. He was kind of thrown into the fire. He’s matured as a player, matured as a person. You see the confidence that he has now. He steps up in all big moments.”

“Hedman, what he’s doing, I mean, this is clearly his coming-out party,” added Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper.

On top of the pass that Hedman made on the winning goal, he also set up Ryan Callahan’s first-period rocket past Corey Crawford, on one of the longest bombs you’ll ever see in a hockey game.

“We were pressured in the zone a little bit and trying to calm the play down a little bit,” Hedman explained. “I wasn’t going to give it to him. I saw their d-man fell. Tried to put it there. He made a good catch on his backhand. It was a hell of a shot. That was obviously a big goal. We probably got a little lucky that their d-man went down.”

Perhaps, but there was no luck in the second period when Hedman made arguably an even better pass, sending the puck high off the glass to give Nikita Kucherov a breakaway.

“Words can’t describe the force that he’s been out there for our team,” said Stamkos. “We’ve known how good he is all along.”

“Just the plays he makes, it’s fun to watch,” said Cooper. “He’s really grown into that role. It took him a few years, but Victor Hedman’s arrived.”

Related: Hanifin feels he has NHL ‘mindset,’ but won’t be ‘mad’ if he goes back to college

There wasn’t always such an emphasis on shot-blocking

NHL: Blues v Blackhawks Game 3

CHICAGO — The day after it was reported that the NHL’s competition committee had discussed “disallowing certain shot-blocking techniques,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, a former NHL defenseman, was asked how the emphasis on shot-blocking has changed compared to when he was playing.

“I think the game has changed now,” said Quenneville. “There’s so many layers of guys in shooting lanes. There’s one, two and three guys sometimes you got to get the pucks through. I just think a lot of teams emphasize making sure shots don’t get through, and protecting the middle of the ice as well.”

It wasn’t always that way. The rise of shot-blocking has been linked to the NHL’s crackdown on obstruction that followed the 2004-05 lockout.

“You [keep] forwards from going to the net, and you’re called for interference,” Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara told Sports Illustrated in 2007. “And once the forwards get there, they’re basically screening your goalie. So now all that’s left for you is throwing yourself in front of shots.”

PHT reached out to former NHL forward Ray Ferraro to ask what it was like when he was in the league, from the mid-1980s until 2002.

“Shot-blocking was never really demanded from us. It wasn’t seen as a big deal,” Ferraro texted. “The focus was on keeping the lane clear for goalies to see the shot.”

More goals and fewer injuries are two reasons to try and think up ways to reduce the number of shots being blocked.

However, just because the topic was discussed by the competition committee doesn’t mean anything will be done about it, or should be done about it. After all, there’s something to be said for a player’s willingness to sacrifice his body for the good of the team.

“Some guys have more of an anticipation towards that, more willingness to do it,” said Quenneville. “There’s a bit of an art. There’s a little bit of pain that you gotta deal with as well. We may have one of the best ones in the game in [Niklas Hjalmarsson].”

Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi leads all players in blocked shots during the playoffs, with 65.

On the teams in the Stanley Cup Final, Hjalmarsson leads the Blackhawks with 51, while Victor Hedman has the most on the Lightning, with 39.

Related: Ducks dealing with shot-blocking conundrum

Mitch Marner picked a great time to be an undersized prospect

Saginaw Spirit v London Knights

CHICAGO — Mitch Marner is not a big guy. That much was obvious when he walked into the United Center with the rest of the top prospects today.


If you hadn’t guessed, that’s him in the back there.

No wonder the London Knights’ star forward is such a big Patrick Kane fan.

“He’s the guy I’ve always looked up to,” Marner said of Kane, who starred for the Knights before being drafted first overall in 2007.

“He’s a guy that I’ve wanted to image my game after. He’s a special player. What he does away from the puck, what he does with the puck. How he tricks defensemen.

“He can change his speed real fast without defensemen knowing. When he has the puck, defensemen respect him so much, they back up. When they back up into their own zone, that gives Kane the right to do whatever he wants to do with that puck.

“I know, personally, when a defenseman does that to me, it feels a lot better. You have time, you have space. You make the play that you want.”

Though not big, Marner insists he’s not as small as he’s been made out to be. At the combine, he says his measurements came in at “just under” six feet and 160 pounds. And he’s hopeful that he’s still growing. He says his brother, now six-foot-2, didn’t stop growing until he was 22.

Besides, the NHL is different than it used to be. Look at what Kane does for the Blackhawks. Look at Tyler Johnson and Johnny Gaudreau. All undersized, and all starring in a league that once demanded top draft picks be big and strong and able to fight through the obstruction.

“The NHL has changed,” said Marner. “It’s not about height. It’s not about cross-checking as hard as you can. It’s not about hooking. All those get you a penalty nowadays. It’s a speed game now. It’s about thinking. If you have the brain to play in the NHL, no matter how tall you are, you can play. If you can dodge hits, you can play.”

Related: Hanifin feels he has NHL ‘mindset,’ but won’t be ‘mad’ if he goes back to college