At this point, everyone has seen Steven Stamkos, and he understandably gets the majority of the media attention with the Leafs in town. At age 20, he's become an elite scorer in the NHL, already leading the league in goals and points in an impressive continuation of last season's 51-goal campaign.
Who you hear a whole lot less about, however, is Victor Hedman, the 6-foot-6, 19-year-old Swede who was drafted second overall behind John Tavares in 2009. But there's a pretty good argument he's just as integral to the Lightning's early success so far this season, albeit in a far more quiet role.
The Leafs are likely going to have their hands full with both tonight, but it'll be Hedman who will get the Phil Kessel assignment and who could be a big factor in prolonging Toronto's scoring woes.
So far, Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher has been using the youngster as his top shutdown defenceman, with Hedman leading the team in ice time with 23:02 minutes a game and playing on both special teams. He also has six assists in 12 games, having missed one game last week with a foot injury that has yet to completely heal.
Netminder Dan Ellis, who will start against Toronto tonight, said his teammate doesn't get a lot of attention because he has yet to produce big offensive numbers. In the near future, however, he believes Hedman will be talked about as one of the game's elite blueliners.
"Not too many guys who are 6'6" can skate like that," Ellis said. "He's a guy who's going to be a great player in this league. He's definitely worthy of where he was drafted.
"I think maybe because he doesn't put up huge numbers like a Green from Washington - those are the type of defencemen who usually get all the accolades, it's not the guys that are the shutdown guys. Heddy blocks shots, he's unbelievable against the rush because he's got such a wide wingspan that he can knock pucks away every time. His speed makes up for any errors that he makes. He's a well-rounded defenceman. I think people underestimate him because he doesn't score 50 goals.
"He's got every tool that's necessary to be an elite player. He's only going to get better and better."
Hedman had a few bumps in his rookie season last year in an organization that was very much more in turmoil than it is this year with GM Steve Yzerman and coach Guy Boucher in the mix, but he likely still should have made the NHL's all-rookie team ahead of Rangers rookie Michael Del Zotto. Even last season, it was clearly evident Hedman was emerging as a top defensive player.
He just may be one of those top defencemen that sneaks up on the rest of the league, never getting talked about until he's already a star. Because the early returns this season indicate he'll get there soon.
The Lightning's new style
Leafs winger Clarke MacArthur has come across already this season as one of the more cerebral players on the team, as he always seems to have a few tidbits when it comes to breaking down the opposition. Here's what he picked up on from the Lightning based on some of the video the team has been watching.
"They've got a totally different look this year," MacArthur said. "With their systems, I mean, they were run and gun last year from what I remember. The way it looks right now, they're sitting back like the Islanders kind of. They've got that 1-3-1 [system] going.
"It's a frustrating style to play against. But the only thing we can do is keep our speed and get pucks in deep and get in from there. We might not get as much off the rush but that's okay. Just don't get frustrated. I mean we're going to have to play a smart game tonight. It's a team where you can't give up turnovers and all that or they'll eat you alive."
The big reason for the change is obviously Tampa's new coach in Boucher, who has a bit of a different background given his considerable postsecondary education and was the most sought after new coach in the off-season. He also believes in using sports psychology and other unique approaches to the game and didn't have his team go through a morning skate today at the rink.
- J-S Giguere starts again for the Leafs, meaning it's likely Jonas Gustavsson gets the nod against the Panthers tomorrow in the second half of the back-to-back.
- Ron Wilson scratched Christian Hanson and Carl Gunnarsson for the second straight game, meaning German rookie Korbinian Holzer will get into his second career NHL game. Wilson said he felt Holzer can eventually play up to 18 minutes a night and that he wants to start using his third defence pairing, including Brett Lebda, more in games. Toronto has leaned heavily on its top four defencemen pretty much all season, which will be harder to do with Dion Phaneuf out until early to mid-December.
- A lot of the talk continues to be about Toronto's goal scoring issues over the last nine games, when the Leafs have gone 1-5-3 and scored only 15 goals. (They had 16 in their first four games, all wins.) Wilson addressed the situation a few times in his meeting with the press this afternoon, which you can hear in full below.