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Blackhawks leaning on Nick Leddy

Nick Leddy has minus-7 rating last three games has been victim bad bounces. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

Nick Leddy has a minus-7 rating in the last three games and has been a victim of bad bounces. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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TONIGHT





Blue Jackets
at Blackhawks

The facts: 7:30, CSN, 720-AM.

Updated: February 11, 2012 8:21AM



One day, Nick Leddy might be a star for the Blackhawks.

He has all the tools a defenseman needs. Whether it’s starting breakouts, setting up goals or eliminating opponents on the rush, he has provided glimpses of what he could be.

But he’s still a 20-year-old playing a position that takes years to learn. He’s the Hawks’ No. 3 defenseman, and he’s only in his first full NHL season after breaking into the league last year.

Leddy’s recent struggles, offensively and defensively, have coincided with the team’s problems. It’s becoming clear that Leddy is crucial to the Hawks’ success and that they don’t have enough consistency on the back end to make up for the sophomore slump he’s in.

“You want to have stretches where you face some adversity where you find out about your team and you find out about individuals,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “The time when you’re in it is the tough part.”

General manager Stan Bowman knows that, despite having eight defensemen, the Hawks need more help on the blue line to not only ­assist stalwarts Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but also Leddy.

“The depth is in place, but the caliber of five, six, seven or eight is an area if you think you can improve, I think that’s something every team talks about bettering,” Quenneville said. “For the most part, [Keith] and [Seabrook] have been really playing well recently. Nick and [Niklas Hjalmarsson] have been playing well together.

“The other pair has been inconsistent based on not just their play but . . . who’s in the lineup. If it was predictable, it might be a little bit clearer, but we’ve been changing it [a lot]. It’s more of our responsibility.”

It has changed a lot because of their inconsistencies, and it’s Bowman’s responsibility to find another defenseman to give the unit more stability. While the Hawks might need another top-six forward, they need a blue-liner who can eat up considerable minutes and help on the penalty kill even more.

The Hawks’ goalies deserve some fault for the team’s 2.86 goals-against average, but the blue line should get more blame. The Hawks are just past the halfway point of the season and already have allowed 120 goals. Only the Calgary Flames, Anaheim Ducks and Columbus Blue Jackets have allowed more in the Western Conference, and they are three of the four worst teams in the West.

“With Nick, we still like the way he’s playing,” Quenneville said. “I just think around that [goal] area we can defend better as a team. We’ve been spending a lot of time talking about those types of plays around our net, where defensively we have to be more predictable and dependable. In that tough and tight area, let’s make sure the goalie does his job, but we’ve got some clearing responsibilities.”

Rotating Sean O’Donnell (27 games), John Scott (20) and Sami Lepisto (11) isn’t working. The ­decision to test rookie Dylan Olsen, instead of pairing two of the three veterans in tough games against the Philadelphia Flyers and surging Colorado Avalanche, signals some of the Hawks’ concerns.

“[It was] an opportunity for us to see where Dylan’s at,” Bowman said. “Partially then, we can assess where he’s at as we go down the stretch. Is he a guy that it’s realistic to think he can contribute, or does he need more time to progress? We saw last year what a half a year did for Nick Leddy.”

The Hawks’ brass has been enthralled with Leddy’s quick development and will give him some leeway, despite his recent struggles. He’s minus-7 in the last three games and has been a victim of bad bounces. But he also needs to limit his mistakes.

After starting out strong with two goals and 13 assists in the first 21 games, Leddy has only five assists in the last 21. He said the coaching staff wants him to “do things harder and be more assertive.”

“I’m getting the chances. I think [points will] come,” Leddy said. “I just have to keep creating more and keep trying to get in the offense. You just have to keep learning and keep improving.”

The Hawks are counting on it.



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