Leddy still has room to grow
The last thing that most people remember about Nick Leddy from the 2012-13 season is the dramatic reduction in his ice time during the Stanley Cup Final.
That cut in ice time raised some red flags about the lofty expectations that were heaped on his shoulders before the age of 20, when legendary coach Scotty Bowman -- a senior adviser for the Chicago Blackhawks -- compared him to a young Phil Housley.
Those questioning the 22-year old Leddy's ability, however, should probably talk to his teammates on the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks first.
"He's good at both ends of the rink and I don't think there's anyone in the League who can chase him from behind the net and keep up with him," Andrew Shaw, a 21-year old second-year center, told NHL.com. "Whenever I'm on the ice with him, I just give it to him and yell, 'Skate!' ... because why should I have to skate with it when he can easily go through three guys?"
Shaw is Leddy's roommate and a friend off the ice, but he's not the only one in the dressing room who's impressed with Leddy's skating and instincts. Veteran defenseman Sheldon Brookbank, who played with Scott Niedermayer during his time with the Anaheim Ducks, said Leddy has at least one trait that's eerily similar to the 2013 Hall of Fame inductee.
"Some of the things he does out there are just amazing," Brookbank told NHL.com this week. "I'm not going to get ahead of myself and compare him to Niedermayer, but after playing with Niedermayer, sometimes you'd shake your head at how he'd go retrieve a puck and things like that. [Leddy] can go into a corner with two guys on him and just leave them in the dust. There's not many guys who can do that in any league, so he definitely has some very high-end talent and skating ability."
Brookbank's kicker ought to allay any concerns that Leddy isn't capable of developing into a star blueliner.
"I think he still has room to improve," he said. "He's a [real] good player right now, but I think there's still room to improve. He's still young and he's only going to get better."
The question is what Leddy needs to improve most?
Ask him and he's got all areas of his game circled. This will be Leddy's fourth NHL season, and his second full campaign. He has 176 regular-season games behind him, as well as 36 games of experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
He's still learning a lot on every shift and is the first one to admit it.
"You can keep learning throughout your whole career, whether it's from a younger guy and watching him or [veterans] like [Duncan Keith] and [Brent Seabrook]," Leddy told NHL.com. "It's nice having those kind of guys in front of me and learning from them."
One aspect of Keith's game he's trying to emulate is using his speed to get better gap coverage. Leddy is built much like Keith, and both have elite speed. The difference is that Keith has a lot more experience and a Norris Trophy from 2010 on his resume.
"He'll hit guys if he needs to, but he's so good at getting on people quick and having stick-on-puck all the time," Leddy said. "It makes guys make mistakes and makes guys try to make plays earlier than they want to."
Offensively, Leddy is making a concerted effort to shoot the puck more often. It's become a theme throughout his career, dating back to high school. Coaches and teammates are always impressed with his shot, especially his accuracy, and want him to use it more.
"It's always been the way I play ... I like to dish it off more than shoot it, but in some circumstances I need to be shooting more than passing," Leddy said. "I think it's more of a natural thing [not to shoot], but I've got to change that mentality a little bit. I'm not saying I would score a lot of goals if I start shooting more, but it creates a lot of plays and creates a mess in front of the net."
That kind of mess would please Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who was bothered enough by Leddy's play in the Final against the Boston Bruins that he sat him on the bench for long stretches.
After scoring six goals and finishing with 18 points while playing all 48 games during the regular season, Leddy watched his ice time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs go from 22:37 at the start to 3:25 in Game 6 of the Final, when the Blackhawks won the Cup with two goals in the final 90 seconds of regulation.
"Everybody has got pride [and] they want to play, they want to do well and contribute in a meaningful way," Quenneville said. "Whether [the Final] is a motivator or not, I mean, that's where we're at and that's where we are today. Take advantage of the situation and show us that you deserve more and earn more ... and I expect that."
Leddy, who inked a two-year deal in the summer as a restricted free agent, plans to use the experience as motivation. He views it as another educational bump along his career path and is quick to share what it thought him.
"That there's always going to be ups and downs, and you just have to basically control what you can control," he told NHL.com. "Obviously you can use that as motivation, but you don't need to think about it too much. I mean, we did win the Stanley Cup, so that's always the main goal. Winning is always the main goal, and doing whatever you can to win is the most important thing."