Season Preview: Nick Leddy – Changing Levels

photo credit: Zimbio / Getty Images

By Brad Gardner

Acquired from Minnesota along with Kim Johnsson in February 2010 in the trade that sent Cam Barker to the Wild, Nick Leddy was thought to still be a few years away from making an impact at the pro level. After making big strides in his game as a freshman at the University of Minnesota in 2009-10 and another strong showing at Chicago’s prospect camp the following summer, Leddy showed that he was much closer than originally thought. Blackhawks’ GM Stan Bowman signed the defenseman to a pro deal after just the one year of college hockey, citing the prospect camp performance as the club’s main reason for bringing him into the fold so soon.

Leddy continued to impress at training camp heading into the 2010-11 season. He stuck with the big club out of camp in large part because Brian Campbell was going to miss time at the start of the year due to injury, but the look at the NHL lasted only six games. In Rockford, Leddy was able to play a bigger role and earn more ice time, particularly on special teams. He scored two goals and eight assists in 22 AHL games as a 19-year-old and was tied for third among IceHogs defensemen in points by the time he left for Team USA’s World Junior camp. Leddy’s minus-7 at the AHL level was as much an indication of the team’s struggles in the first half of the season as it was a sign of his own struggles in the defensive end.

Leddy was one of the few players at the WJC camp in Lake Placid with pro experience under his belt, so his inclusion on the squad that went to Buffalo was not all that surprising. He finished the tournament with three assists and a plus-1 rating in six games in a solid, if unspectacular, showing. Even against competition his own age, the Eden Prairie-native struggled to keep up physically with bigger players and showed that his defensive game was still a work in progress.

He was nonetheless recalled to Chicago following the tournament and would spend the rest of his season at the NHL level. Though he was largely relegated to the third defensive pairing, Leddy spent some time alongside Duncan Keith as well and got a taste of logging some big minutes. He only cracked the 20-minute mark in three games as a rookie, however, and did not get much special teams time during the regular season in Chicago.

In 46 NHL regular season games with Chicago, Leddy scored four goals and three assists while earning a minus-3 rating. He averaged 14:18 of ice time per night, which is fairly consistent with his 14:36 average in the playoffs. Leddy did not score in Chicago’s series against the Canucks, but he did play a bigger role on the man advantage, logging just over one minute per game on the power play, and showed a little more grit than he had during the regular season.

Leddy’s skating has always been his biggest asset and was probably one of the main reasons the Chicago brass could envision him playing pro hockey sooner than anyone else expected. His puck-moving abilities were generally good last year, but he often made the safe, simple pass rather than trying to make an impactful play. There were still plenty of rookie mistakes, especially in the defensive zone where his lapses in coverage and inability to protect the Blackhawks’ net were often detrimental to the defensive effort.

Listed at 179 pounds entering his rookie season, it is not surprising that Leddy struggled to adjust to the size and physicality of the pro level. He was easily pushed around, especially as opposing forecheckers began to key in on the young defenseman. Despite his size disadvantage, he still played with poise and discipline in his first season and was called for only three minor penalties over the course of his year at all levels.

Now that Brian Campbell has been traded to Florida and Chris Campoli was allowed to walk in free agency, Leddy will have to make quick strides and step into a bigger offensive role on the blue line. Though he will not be asked to completely make up for the loss of Campbell on the back end, Leddy should see more power play time and will be leaned on more in the transition game when the top pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are off the ice. As capable as defenders like Niklas Hjalmarsson and Steve Montador might be on the break out, Leddy is much better suited to carry the puck and push the pace from the blue line.

Like in his rookie season, the team is likely hoping to see more improvement and that will allow his role to increase accordingly over the course of the season. Even in training camp and early preseason matchups, it looks like Leddy is already more confident and has shown more assertiveness with the puck on his stick. There will surely continue to be growing pains for the 20-year-old defenseman (even if he is listed at 191 pounds this year), but he could be a key contributor on defense by the end of the year if he can continue improving during the year.

Brad Gardner

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