TORONTO – To say it’s been an up-and-down year for rookie Chicago defenceman Nick Leddy would be an understatement.
The 19-year-old has played in every Blackhawks game since Jan. 7, but has been “re-assigned” and “recalled” to and from the American Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs nine times in 2011.
But don’t be fooled by all the back and forth, Leddy is part of the Blackhawks’ plans moving forward.
“His upside in the league is going to be high-end,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said after his team’s 5-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
“His poise and patience with the puck—he recognizes a lot of plays, he alleviates pressure very well.”
The assign-and-recall process itself is really a matter of paperwork and salary cap management. Chicago has saved about US$200,000 this season, but players must actually have proof of travel and land or drive to their destinations.
The longest Leddy, a native of Eden Prarie, Minn., has officially spent with Rockford since the start of 2011 is four days.
NHL teams with cap considerations are using the assign/recall tactic more often. Last season, San Jose’s Jamie McGinn played 86 combined games in the NHL and AHL, jetting between Worcester, Mass., and California no fewer than 10 times.
Leddy, who was unavailable after Saturday night’s game, could be assigned to Rockford again to ensure his eligibility for the AHL playoffs, but he’s a keeper.
Duncan Keith, a Canadian Olympian and Norris Trophy finalist last season, has been paired with Leddy regularly on the Chicago blue-line and is impressed by the youngster.
“He’s real poised, he’s fun to play with,” Keith said. “He skates well, has great poise and makes real smart plays out there.”
Against the Maple Leafs on Saturday, Leddy showed his defensive ability by breaking up a dangerous looking 2-on-1 in the game’s first minute with some nice stickwork in the high slot.
But like any young defenceman, Leddy will have some growing pains. He was victimized on Toronto’s first goal and coughed up the puck on the play that ended with Mikhail Grabovski being awarded a penalty shot in the third.
Mistakes are to be expected from a teenager playing what is generally considered the hardest position to grow into in the NHL, but Leddy takes them in stride.
“That’s what’s impressive about him, too,” Keith said when asked how Leddy reacts after making a mistake, “for a young guy he’s very level-headed and that’s going to help him out in the end.”