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Hawks’ Nick Leddy is ready for next step

The Hawks’ Nick Leddy battles for puck Saturday with Avalanche’s Jay McClement. | Charles Cherney~AP

The Hawks’ Nick Leddy battles for the puck Saturday with the Avalanche’s Jay McClement. | Charles Cherney~AP

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Updated: January 23, 2012 3:08AM

With the Blackhawks trailing the Colorado Avalanche by a goal less than five minutes into the third period Saturday, defenseman Nick Leddy picked up the puck in his own zone.

He turned up ice and pushed the play all the way into the offensive zone before laying the puck off to forward Jamal Mayers, who scored to tie the game.

It was a play Leddy, 20, might not have made last season. But he has shown a growing confidence in the early part of this season and a willingness to become more involved offensively.

‘‘[Leddy] had a strong game,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said after the Hawks’ 5-4 shootout loss to the Avalanche. ‘‘I thought he did the right job leading the rush there. .  .  . [Mayers’ score] was a big goal [and] the result of Nick carrying the puck, lugging it up [the ice].’’

With four points in the Hawks’ first seven games, Leddy is more than halfway to eclipsing the seven points he accumulated in 46 games as a rookie last season.

‘‘I guess it was just the right time and place for me to go,’’ Leddy said of his rush with the puck.

Leddy’s play, though, isn’t without growing pains. He was caught in no-man’s land on Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog’s tying goal with 1:48 left in regulation.

But Leddy’s maturation process took another step when he did something he rarely was called on to do last season: He faced the media after the game.

‘‘We feel like we should have won that game,’’ Leddy said. ‘‘But knowing we did get one point out of it is a good thing.’’

It’s just the next step in what Duncan Keith, Leddy’s defensive partner, sees in a budding career.

‘‘You’re not able to step into the NHL at his age without having some natural ability, and he’s definitely got a lot of poise for a young guy,’’ Keith said. ‘‘His instincts are real good, and his skating ability is one of the best in the league.’’

The Hawks acquired Leddy, the 16th overall selection in the 2009 draft, from the Minnesota Wild as part of a trade in February 2010 that sent defenseman Cam Barker in the other direction.

Hawks enforcer John Scott came up with Leddy in the Wild’s system and said he has been impressed with his progress.

‘‘He’s come a long way,’’ Scott said. ‘‘He’s always been a smooth skater, but he’s kind of calmed down his game a little bit. He used to panic in some situations, but he’s grown a lot in his play and he’s only 20 years old. It’s scary to think about how good he is and how far he’s come in two years.’’

One thing Leddy isn’t is a talker. His confidence has grown, but he’s still content to let Scott, a close friend who sits next to him in the locker room, do most of the talking.

‘‘He’s still quiet,’’ Scott said. ‘‘He didn’t talk at all last year. He’ll start conversations this year, but he’s still super quiet. That’s just his personality. He’s a quiet kid.’’

The Hawks hope the quiet kid carries a big future with him.

‘‘He’s got real good patience for a young defenseman, and he’s only going to get better,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘Nick’s got a lot of upside to his game, and we think he could be a good one.’’

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