Hedman reaching next level as Lightning stay afloat

Posted: 21/02/2017 in NHL, Sports
Tags: , , , ,
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In mid-November, the Tampa Bay Lightning‘s 2016-17 campaign took one to the gut. Captain Steven Stamkos was ruled out with a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee, sidelined once again by significant injury.

After two straight years of conference finals appearances – the first of which was extended to the Stanley Cup Final – the Lightning’s impressive run looked as good as done without their top offensive weapon.

But heading into the home stretch of the season, Tampa Bay has hung on. The club certainly isn’t in an enviable position – ranked fifth among the eight Eastern Conference teams fighting to enter the wild-card picture – but it sits only six points out of a playoff berth.

Dominant efforts from young gun Jonathan Drouin and emerging superstar Nikita Kucherov have played key roles in keeping the Lightning afloat. But behind them, Victor Hedman, the team’s lone constant, has quietly been the one driving the bus as he enters the next phase of his career.

Hedman isn’t new to stardom. He’s been considered one of the game’s elite rearguards for years, and proved his worth during Tampa Bay’s recent postseason runs. He’s taken another step in 2016-17, however, raising his offensive ceiling to meet the league’s other star blue-liners.

Through 55 games this season, the 26-year-old Swede has amassed 10 goals and 48 points. Those 10 tallies have already tied the total he’s posted in each of the past two seasons, and are just three off his career high with 24 games remaining on the schedule.

Hedman’s playmaking ability has been the true game-changer though. He’s already put up 38 assists this season – tied for fifth-highest among all NHL skaters. The only rearguard with more helpers is Erik Karlsson, who’s no stranger to putting up absurd numbers.

Hedman’s best offensive season came in 2013-14, when he racked up 55 points in 75 games. He’s on pace to obliterate that total this season, his current trajectory putting him on track for 69 points by the Lightning’s final regular-season game.

Should he reach that plateau, it would rank as the highest point total of any defenseman in team history – the current benchmark is Roman Hamrlik‘s 65-point effort in 1995-96.

The Lightning are surely relieved to have Hedman scoring at an improved clip, as Stamkos’ absence has left them starved for offensive contribution throughout the lineup once again.

With Hedman rolling and Drouin establishing himself among the game’s most promising stars, the Lightning have life. And with Stamkos taking the ice again in preparation for his eventual return, Tampa Bay might just claw its way back into the postseason picture before all is said and done.

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