Nick Leddy has had to grow up fast on the ice.
His sophomore stint, when the Blackhawks put much on his shoulders after Brian Campbell’s departure, was tough in a season when the team defense struggling overall. But one season -- and some minor-league seasoning -- later, Leddy is much improved. And he’s become one of the team’s best defensemen.
Leddy just turned 22 barely a week ago but he’s been playing like a veteran this season. Playing with either Michal Rozsival or Sheldon Brookbank, Leddy has taken his stellar speed and paired it with an improved game.
“He’s probably the guy I’m most impressed with this season,” said fellow defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. “I knew he was a great skater and great offensively. But I’m most impressed this year with how he plays in the defensive zone and around the net. He has a great stick. The way he plays defensively this year is a step up.”
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While the lockout gobbled up the early part of the NHL season, Leddy played for the Rockford IceHogs. He played in 31 games, logging a lot of minutes in a lot of situations, and he said it was beneficial.
“Playing there definitely helped,” he said. “I was growing confidence and that’s been a real help to me. I think that was definitely big going into this year.”
Brandon Bollig, who also played in Rockford during the lockout, noticed Leddy’s burgeoning confidence.
“When you go down there, you’re given a bigger role. You get more playing time and can work on your skill set with the time you get. And you can try new things and see what you can improve on,” Bollig said. “His skating’s impeccable. And as far as his skill set, people really underestimate what he has, what he brings to the table. Obviously, that’s a guy you want on your side.”
And he’s been trusted to play quality minutes with the Blackhawks this season. Leddy’s speed remains his most potent asset, and it’s led to a career-high six goals, the latest of which came in Sunday’s 7-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings.
“He’s quite poised with the puck,” Brookbank said. “I know everyone mentions his skating, and that’s his No. 1 asset. But he has his head up all the time when he has the puck and definitely sees the ice well, so that’s worked well for him.”
As far as that skating, well, it’s mentioned for a reason. Teammates are impressed with it.
“It’s crazy how good that guy can skate. It looks effortless. He just flies out there,” goaltender Corey Crawford said. “He’s a sick skater and a good player. He’s only getting better as he goes. It’s scary how good he could get.”
Leddy has grown up quickly. He’s had some bumps in the road in his young career but that’s to be expected. He’s gained some seasoning, and the Blackhawks are reaping the rewards of that.
“He’s just one of our best defensemen for sure,” Hjalmarsson said. “He’s unbelievable.”