Nik Hjalmarsson and Nick Leddy are quite a tandem
BY ADAM L. JAHNS email@example.com December 15, 2011 8:22PM
Chicago Blackhawks v Minnesota Wild
The facts: 7:30, CSN, 720-AM.
Updated: January 17, 2012 8:26AM
The way defenseman Nick Leddy moves with the puck and sees the ice, it was inevitable that he’d be paired with Niklas Hjalmarsson.
The Blackhawks’ brass believes Leddy is capable of becoming a Brian Campbell-like defenseman, possibly even better. So why not pair him with Hjalmarsson, Campbell’s best partner during his stint with the Hawks?
The Hjalmarsson-Leddy combination has fared well. They were each a minus-2 against the Minnesota Wild in the Hawks’ 4-3 shootout victory Wednesday, but that can be considered just a hiccup for what coach Joel Quenneville believes is a real solid pairing.
“It’s a good pair in a lot of ways,” Quenneville said. “You get some offense and defense with it and some predictability as well, which we like.”
What the Hawks have is an offensively gifted player in Leddy, who’s working hard to improve his defensive play, and a defensive-minded shot-blocker in Hjalmarsson, who’s trying to be aware of situations in which he can contribute more offensively.
Neither Leddy nor Hjalmarsson hid their excitement when asked what it’s like to play with each other. Both also maintain that they only will get better as the season goes along. Quenneville already has shown that he’s comfortable sending them out against some of the best lines.
“I really like playing with him,” Leddy, 20, said. “He’s a great defenseman. With how we’ve been moving the puck lately, it’s nice that we both like to make the simple play, and it certainly helps out.”
“Leddy is a great skater, a great passer,” Hjalmarsson, 24, said. “He’s comfortable with the puck. I can see a lot of similarities with [Campbell], for sure. I keep forgetting that he’s so young. It’s unbelievable. There’s really no limit for him.”
Leddy showed those similarities especially early on in the season when he became more assertive. He started breakouts and got involved deep in the attacking zone as Campbell still does with the Florida Panthers. Leddy had a great start to the season, leading the Hawks’ defense in points and plus-minus rating at one point.
Leddy’s production has declined recently, but he doesn’t think opponents have caught on to his tendencies.
“It’s on me to keep creating and keep thinking of new ways to contribute offensively,” said Leddy, who has 17 points.
Quenneville has been pleased with what Leddy has done in the Hawks’ recent string of tight-checking games.
“His game is getting better,” Quenneville said. “I don’t really measure his offensive contributions numbers-wise because when he’s playing [like he can], he’s giving us some offense on the back end. Sometimes they go in for you; sometimes they don’t. But there is definitely some offense to his game that we appreciate.”
Hjalmarsson, meanwhile, has seen an increase in production, thanks to his concerted effort to shoot more and to make direct passes on the attack. Three of his five assists have come in the last five games, but he’s still searching for his first goal of the season.
“As long as the team keeps scoring, I don’t feel that I have to, but obviously it would be fun to score,” said Hjalmarsson, who was third in the NHL with 81 blocks heading into Thursday’s games.
“I just want to try to do everything I can to prevent the other team from scoring when I’m on the ice. If that includes blocking shots, that’s what I’m going to do.”
The most important thing is that Leddy and Hjalmarsson are alleviating some of the onus on Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Leddy (22:42) and Hjalmarsson (20:47) average more than 20 minutes a game. They also are paired on the penalty kill.
“Defending off the rush or in zone, [Hjalmarsson] has been blocking lots of shots regularly, and Nick has improved his defensive game, and we also like the way he’s moving up the ice with the puck with his quickness or even just alleviating forechecking pressure,” Quenne-ville said. “That’s been a real solid pair for us.”