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If Victor Hedman is to stake his claim to being the Islanders’ first overall pick in the NHL Draft, now is the time.
“It’s my chance,” Hedman told Point Blank over the phone this morning from the NHL Draft Combine in Toronto. “It’s my final opportunity to make an impression on the Islanders.”
Hedman said he has played in front of Islanders scouts countless times, between his games in the Swedish Elite League and the World Junior Championships. He had several meetings with Islanders scouting director Ryan Jankowski, European director Vellu-Pekka Kautonen and longtime Swedish scout and dynasty member Anders Kallur.
“The Islanders have been great to me,” Hedman said. “I’ve gone to dinner with them in Stockholm. We’ve had a few meetings. They gave me their psychological test. It’s all been first-class, very professional. They now know me and I know them well.”
Would you like to be the Islanders’ first overall pick in the NHL Draft, Victor?
“Of course, that would be an honor,” said Hedman. “I know all about the Islanders history. I know it’s a great place to play. It would be a privilege to wear the same jersey of a man like Mike Bossy, who is a legend. I know Kenny Jonsson from the National team and he loved his time in New York.
“If they call my name, I would be proud to be an Islander. And if they want me right away, I’m coming to North America next season. I’m confident that I’m ready for the NHL.”
To make it a reality, there are three big days for Hedman.
Tuesday, May 26: According to Hedman, the Islanders hosted him early Tuesday morning at one of their first interviews of the combine. The early timing is merely coincidence, the luck of Central Scouting’s schedule. The meeting was the same allotted 20 minutes that the Islanders are granted at the draft combine with Matt Duchene, Carter Ashton and anyone else the team’s scouting staff requests.
An interpreter was not needed because Hedman speaks fluent English. Despite his shy demeanor on the night the Islanders won the lottery – it was 2:30 am in Sweden when he was interviewed by TSN – Hedman is said to be extremely bright, out-going and confident in his world-class skills. The Islanders still refuse to release the names of the scouts at the combine, but it’s fair to assume the Hedman interview was led by Jankowski. Central Scouting director E.J. McGuire said yesterday that Jankowski was joined by a contingent of “4 or 5 scouts.”
“It was a good meeting,” said Hedman. “I’m scheduled to see a lot of teams at the combine, but the Islanders meeting felt like a big one.” Like a final exam? “Yes, you could say that.”
Friday, May 29: At 3:30 pm, Hedman takes the stage for the physical testing section of the NHL Draft Combine. Make no mistake, this is a cattle call. In shorts and a T-Shirt – branded with a number as if this was A Chorus Line – Hedman will be put through a series of exercises including situps, pushups, bench press, standing long jump, vertical jump and the ever-crucial medicine ball throw.
Hedman and his group of 8 draft prospects (including fellow huge dman Jared Cowen) will then be given a Windgate test, a 30-second sprint on a bike at maximum tension that has often led to vomiting on the ballroom floor. Then comes the beloved v02 test, which usually doesn’t induce barfing but has been known to break a kid’s spirit.
Oh by the way, Hedman and the rest of the prospects perform all these tests in a hotel ballroom jam-packed with scouts. As a final touch to give it the feel of a Chippendales audition, the players take their shirts off for photos and weight and height measurements. One longtime bird-dog says, “The whole enterprise would be intimidating for even the most confident of kids.”
Hedman told us he’ll sweat a lot, but he won’t sweat the details. “I’m here to work hard and show the scouts my conditioning and my health,” he said. “But I’m not going to be nervous. All week here, I just want to have fun and enjoy being part of the NHL atmosphere. This is exciting for me. I’m not going to worry about things I can’t control.”
The Islanders will get a better idea of the stuff Hedman is made of on Friday afternoon.
Next Week: Hedman told Point Blank that he has a flight to New York on Sunday afternoon and the Islanders are picking him up at the airport. He has all day Monday open on his schedule to meet with the team. On Tuesday, he travels to Tampa Bay.
By the end of this combine, Islanders scouts will have seen plenty of the Swedish defenseman ranked No. 1 among Europeans by Central Scouting. Hedman’s visit on Monday is more about meeting Garth Snow and possibly owner Charles Wang and head coach Scott Gordon.
“I don’t much about it, what the plans are,” said Hedman. “I’m just excited to have the chance to hear about the team and tell them how I could fit in.”
Of course, Snow and Jankowski are the top decision-makers with the first overall pick, but when it comes to Hedman, do not minimize the influence of Kautonen and Kallur.
Kautonen, a former Calgary draft pick and standout with IFK Helsinki as a player, joined the Islanders in 2004 after two years scouting for the St. Louis Blues. After two years of monitoring Finland for the Islanders, he was promoted to European director in 2006. Kautonen was a major influence in the selection of Jesse Joensuu and took a first-hand interest in his development when the 6-4 wing stayed in Finland for one season.
Kallur played six seasons with the Islanders and has four Stanley Cup rings. He has been a major voice in Europe since the early 1990s, including the selection of Zdeno Chara when Kallur headed up Europe for the Islanders.
“The Islanders have seen me play enough to know what I might be able to do for them,” said Hedman. ”This week in Toronto and Monday in New York are just the final steps. We’ll see how it works out. Whether it’s first overall or later, my dream is to be picked by a team that really believes in me.”
Some other notable physical testing times on Friday…
1:30 pm: Evander Kane, Zach Kassian, Brayden Schenn, John Tavares
2:30 pm: Jordan Caron, Calvin de Haan, Matt Duchene, Ryan Ellis, Landon Ferraro
Again, a separate spy at the Draft Combine reported to us this morning, “The Islanders people have barely come out of their conference room for air. They’re meeting with virtually every kid with even the slightest chance of going in the first two rounds. They went from 8:30 am to 7:00 pm yesterday and if they took lunch, I didn’t see them. I’ve never seen a team request to meet with so many prospects.”