Minnesota homecoming king Nick Leddy now looking to make run with Blackhawks
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org April 28, 2013 6:42PM
The Chicago Blackhawks NICK LEDDY moves into The Detroit Red Wings zone during their game at the United Center in Chicago on Friday, April 12, 2013. | Brian Powers~Sun Times Media
BLACKHAWKS VS. WILD
Game 1: at Hawks, 7 Tuesday, CSN
Game 2: at Hawks, 8:30 Friday, CSN
Game 3: at Wild, 2 Sunday, Ch. 5
Game 4: at Wild, 8:30 Tuesday, May 7, CSN
Game 5*: at Hawks, TBD
Thursday, May 9
Game 6*: at Wild, TBD Saturday May 11
Game 7*: at Hawks, TBD Sunday May 12
All times p.m.; *-If necessary
• (2) Anaheim vs. (7) Detroit
• (3) Vancouver vs. (6) San Jose
• (4) St. Louis vs. (5) Los Angeles
• (1) Pitt. vs. (8) N.Y. Islanders
• (2) Montreal vs. (7) Ottawa
• (3) Wash. vs. (6) N.Y. Rangers
• (4) Boston vs. (5) Toronto
Updated: May 30, 2013 3:21PM
The media horde bolted through the door to the Blackhawks dressing room toting cameras and microphones, recorders and notebooks, immediately descending on their prey, surrounding him with bright lights and peppering him with familiar questions.
About 20 feet away, on the other side of the visitors’ dressing room at Minnesota’s XCel Energy Center earlier this month, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp took off their gear in relative peace and quiet, a stray Chicago-based reporter or two lingering nearby.
In Minnesota, Nick Leddy is the Hawks’ biggest star — the hometown boy, the No. 1 draft pick, the one that got away.
The 22-year-old rising star defenseman and Eden Prairie native always was supposed to end up playing Stanley Cup playoff games in his native state — the self-proclaimed State of Hockey. And later this week, in Games 3 and 4 of the first-round, he’ll be doing just that.
He’ll just be doing it in a Hawks sweater.
“I always figured it would happen there,” Leddy said. “I mean, it would have been nice. But I’m so happy with the way things turned out. We have the best fans in the world in Chicago, and it’s so fun playing in front of them. I don’t regret it at all.”
The Wild surely do. Leddy, a speedy, puck-moving blue-liner — always en vogue, always in demand — was a first-round draft pick of the Wild in 2009 (16th overall). But just before the trade deadline in February of 2010, the Wild dealt Leddy, along with Kim Johnsson, to Chicago in exchange for former No. 3 overall pick Cam Barker. For the Hawks, it was largely a salary dump. For the Wild, it was about choosing a proven performer over the potential Leddy had.
Leddy, a Minnesota boy through and through who plans to immediately move back once his career is over, was floored by the trade.
“I was,” he said. “But it taught me a big lesson about how it’s a business. Things like that will happen.”
It turned out to be bad business for the Wild. Barker wound up with just two goals and 10 assists with a minus-12 rating in 71 games for the Wild before leaving for Edmonton, then Vancouver. Leddy, meanwhile, has been a star in the making. In his rookie season, he showed flashes of brilliance in half a season. Last year, he played all 82 games and had three goals and 34 assists. This year, he played all 48 games and had six goals and 12 assists, with a sparkling plus-15 rating.
“This is his third year already, and he’s getting more confident and more comfortable,” Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. “When he skates with the puck, not a lot of guys can stop him. He’s definitely added another dimension to our team. We’re a puck-possession, good-skating team, and he fits right into that.”
After spending much of the season on the Hawks’ third pairing with either Michal Rozsival or Sheldon Brookbank, Leddy has teamed up with Brent Seabrook in a top-two pairing since the end of March. That in itself is a sign of just how much Leddy’s defense has caught up with his offense.
“You expect him to improve,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “You get stronger, you get smarter, you get more predictable. We like the way he’s evolved this year.”
Performing in the playoffs is the next step in that evolution. Leddy was disappointed in his effort in the Hawks’ first-round playoff loss last spring, getting pushed around a bit by the physical Phoenix Coyotes. He had a goal and two assists, but struggled at times in his own zone. That kept him motivated during his 31-game stint in Rockford during the NHL lockout — a stint which Leddy credits for much of his improvement this year.
“I could have been better [in the playoffs],” he said. “Obviously, a couple mistakes were made by me, but I can’t really do anything about that now. All I can worry about is this season. The past couple seasons I’ve been here, we got knocked out in the first round. We’re trying to get ready to change that.”
And that’s his only focus right now — not the imminent requests for his tickets and his time in Minnesota (he said he’ll let his mom and dad handle that), not his pending restricted free agency (though he said he’d very much like to stay in Chicago), not the possibility of playing for the U.S. in the Olympics next February (“It’d be a huge honor,” he said).
It’s all about the road to the Stanley Cup — a road that, for Leddy, just happens to begin where it all began.