It’s time for hockey fans and analysts to start coming up with their preseason predictions for the 2017-18 campaign. One of the most notable trophies handed out following every season is the Norris Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s best defenseman.
For the modern-day hockey fan, names such as Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty and previous winner Brent Burns may come to mind when considering the Norris. However, I’m here to tell you about Victor Hedman, a name you’ll be hearing a lot more in further Norris Trophy discussions.
Hedman’s 2016-17 campaign was the best of his career. He finished second amongst defensemen with 72 points in 79 games and first in power play points with 33. The Swedish defenseman has tons of upside to build off of and that will lead him to be the next winner of the Norris.
Evaluating Hedman’s Strengths
In order to determine why Hedman can win the Norris this season, we’ll first have to assess his strengths which he’s developed over the past few seasons. The former second-overall pick started to get the attention of many around the league in the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs. Averaging nearly 24 minutes per game in some of the most crucial playoff games, including the Stanley Cup Final, allowed Hedman to show the league and its viewers what makes him so coveted.
Since then, Hedman has grown into an elite defenseman for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He’s a big man at 6-foot-6, 223 pounds, and uses every bit of that to his advantage. Anyone who’s watched Hedman play knows that he’s an extremely good skater for someone his size and that allows him to be in the right places at the right time. His long reach helps him intercept passes or knock pucks off players’ sticks, making it frustrating to come up against him in a one-on-one battle.
His biggest strength is his ability to read the play. The Lightning defender is currently one of the best defensemen in the game when it comes to jumping in on offense to create a scoring chance. Take this play for example:
Notice how Hedman sneaks in behind everyone, completely invisible to his opponents, giving his teammate an extra passing option. This type of offensive awareness is what has allowed him to see an increase in points over the past three seasons.
Hedman is a power play specialist — there’s a reason why he led all defensemen in power play scoring last season. This has become another one of the Swede’s strengths and one that can influence his chances of winning the Norris this season. The Lightning had the sixth best power play in 2016-17 and much of that success came from Hedman being able to set up teammates like Nikita Kucherov for goals. If the Lightning can continue their power play success this season, it’s possible that Hedman will once again be near the top in power play scoring among defensemen.
Karlsson’s Injury Presents Hedman an Opportunity
If Erik Karlsson can’t start the season on time, it could give Hedman more of the spotlight, or at least the opportunity to get a head start in the race for the Norris. Karlsson suffered an unfortunate foot injury during the 2017 playoffs and the two-time Norris Trophy winner needed to undergo surgery to repair tendons in his left foot this past June. He is expected to miss approximately four months, and may not be ready in time for the Senator’s season debut.
This may be something Hedman can take advantage of as, oftentimes, players who miss part of training camp or the beginning of the season aren’t as sharp as they would be during fully healthy seasons. Karlsson’s return date still remains in question today.
There is no real timetable per se but there's "speculation" FWIW EK65 could three or four weeks, but that's just guesswork at this point.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) September 6, 2017
Karlsson and Hedman both share similarities in their offensive games which was seen last season after they finished with nearly identical stats. Although this trophy is for defensemen, the majority of its recent winners have finished with the most points among all defensemen during the regular season. Playing more games than Karlsson could increase Hedman’s Norris chances since he would be more likely to finish with more points.
What to Expect from Hedman This Season
After his performance last season, there will most certainly be high expectations. At 26-years old, expect nothing but continuous growth in the Swede’s game this season. The Lightning are heading into the season completely healthy, and if they can maintain that for the course of the season, that will only have a positive influence on Hedman’s game.
Out of three Norris nominees last season, Hedman is the only one who had a positive plus-minus in the last five seasons. That shows his reliability when he’s on the ice, and that his team is more likely to be scoring than conceding goals with him out there. It’s evident that with his great skating and long reach that he is one of the toughest defenders to skate by in the league. Bolts fans should be expecting to see more of the same from their top defenseman.
Can Hedman reach the 70-point mark again? That’s a tough one to call because he’s only done it once in his career. Although it’s a bonus to have the most points when competing for the Norris, let’s not forget that Drew Doughty won it in 2016 while scoring 51 points. I believe Hedman is capable of pulling off a similar type of win. Barring an injury, Hedman should easily surpass the 50-point plateau.
Winning the Norris won’t be an easy task for Hedman, but his tremendous development in the last few seasons puts him as an early frontrunner for the trophy. Assuming he has a healthy campaign, it would be unreasonable to exclude him from the trophy’s consideration. The 26-year-old proved to the league last season that he has reached a level where you simply cannot overlook his chances of being the best defenseman in the league every season from here on out.
Tampa Bay Lightning Contributor for The Hockey Writers and Writer for TheSportster.