Leddy, Morin forcing Hawks to make tough decision
Sunday, 09.26.2010 / 10:12 PM CT / News
By Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent
CHICAGO -- There's only one thing 19-year old Chicago Blackhawks prospects Nick Leddy and Jeremy Morin like better than being on the ice in training camp.
"Shopping," Leddy said, laughing. "It's definitely been a lot of fun hanging out here in Chicago."
Turns out, they're not the only ones doing a little window-gazing. The more this camp goes on, the more Leddy and Morin catch the eye of Hawks coaches and front-office people.
It started at this summer's Hawks four-day prospect development camp, where both made their presence felt. It has continued through the start of training camp, where Morin and Leddy are still making waves in practices and games with their skill.
Considering Chicago had a salary-cap related roster upheaval in the offseason, it's starting to look like one or both of the young prospects may find themselves in Chicago this season -- if not to start, then at some point down the road.
"They're both 19-year olds, just kids coming in here and making quite an impression," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "They're different players, obviously. One's a scoring forward (Morin) that has some tenacity and consistency in his game. He's kind of like that power forward that everybody covets, but I think it's still early to give him that kind of a tag."
Then there's the 5-foot-11, 179-pound Leddy, a puck-moving, slick-skating defenseman.
"Nick is kind of a smaller type of defenseman that moves extremely quick and has a good feel for the game," Quenneville said. "The two of them have done a real nice job."
Nice enough to make the roster at such an early age?
Quenneville isn't ready to say no just yet. On Saturday, the day after both played well in a 3-2 preseason loss at Detroit, the coach was asked if it would make him nervous to have two teen rookies on his NHL roster while trying to defend the Stanley Cup.
"No, doesn't scare me at all," he said flatly. "But I'm not saying … there's still a lot of time to make some evaluations, and their play will dictate it -- but I think both of these kids have really enhanced themselves with the way they've played here."
Morin, a 6-foot-1, 189-pound second-round pick of Atlanta in the 2009 Entry Draft (No.45 overall), has been one of the most productive players in camp offensively. He scored his first goal in that road game at Detroit on Friday and added an assist -- and he also added two goals and four points in camp scrimmages.
After scoring 47 goals and 83 points in just 58 games for the OHL's Kitchener Rangers last season, Morin came to Chicago in a deal this summer that sent forwards Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Eager plus defenseman Brent Sopel and prospect Akim Aliu to the Thrashers.
Now he's just trying not to think too far ahead and enjoying his time with the Hawks.
"I think every day you feel a little more comfortable here," he said. "It was exciting to get that first goal, even if it was just a preseason game. I just try to come in and show the coaches and the organization what I have to offer and go from there."
It's definitely a different scenario than he faced last year.
"I'd already played my first OHL game last year," said Morin, who has become good friends with Leddy through common friend Nick Mattson (the Hawks' sixth-round pick in the 2010 Entry Draft). "I was with a different organization and they do things differently. So, to be here with the Stanley Cup champions is just really exciting."
Leddy, Minnesota's first-round pick in the 2009 Entry Draft (No. 16), feels the same. He came to the Hawks along with veteran defenseman Kim Johnsson in a trade last season that sent young blueliner Cam Barker to the Wild. Johnsson didn't finish the season with the Hawks and is no longer with the team, but Leddy could more than make up for it.
At the time of the trade, Leddy was playing college hockey as a freshman for the University of Minnesota. He was all set to again play for the Gophers until the end of the Hawks' prospects development camp this summer.
A talk with Hawks Vice President and General Manager Stan Bowman got him thinking about going pro, and a call to legendary former NHL defenseman Phil Housley helped him make the decision. Housley, who's from Saint Paul, once coached Leddy -- an Eden Prairie, Minn., native -- on an AAA team called the Minnesota Icemen.
"It helped me a lot playing for him, just because of how good he was and how well he knows the game," Leddy said. "I remember my dad always telling me about him (as a player). My dad and I actually talked to him about the decision. I told him the whole situation, and he just said, 'You'd be fine either way, but you just have to go with it and no looking back.'"
Leddy is only looking ahead with the Hawks now. This summer, he was also compared favorably to Housley at the same age by legendary coach Scotty Bowman -- who coached Housley in the early 1980s in Buffalo, when he broke into the league.
The elder Bowman is now the Hawks' senior advisor for hockey operations, and according to Quenneville, isn't too far off on the comparison.
"Nick defends well, and I think that his offense, over time, could blossom," Quenneville said. "Looking back at Phil … Phil was an amazing player, right from the outset. He was dynamic offensively and got better every day defensively. Nick has got some real good foundation defensively, and his upside is very high. We're very happy to have him."
Whether that's sooner or later is yet to be determined, for both Leddy and Morin. Most who follow the team expect Morin is more likely to be sent to the Rockford of the AHL, but only because the Hawks' third defense pairing is still being hashed out.
John Scott just played his first game with the Hawks on Saturday night after being ill last week. Nick Boynton was suspended for one regular-season game for making a "throat slashing" gesture toward Tampa Bay's Blair Jones after a fight in the first preseason game. Jordan Hendry isn't a sure thing to make the roster after not being tendered a contract as a restricted free agent, then re-signing for low cost late in the summer.
The two youngsters' rookie contracts also may play a role. Leddy's cap hit would be $1.4 million according to capgeek.com, whereas the cap hit for Boynton, Scott and Hendry combined would be about $1.6 million. Morin's cap figure would be slightly less than $1 million if he were to make the NHL roster.
Still, Quenneville insists that their play during camp will be the ultimate guide.
"That discussion is something that we haven't really nailed yet, but I still think the (AHL) is a great league and to get some exposure there is never going to hurt anybody's development -- long term or short term," he said. "At the same time, you don't want to get in the way of guys who earned an opportunity to start here. I've seen a lot of kids make it at a young age, and they seem to blossom off of those levels. But their play is going to be the most deserving reward here."
Author: Brian Hedger | NHL.com Correspondent