When Cam Barker was traded last year, we all felt that GM Stan Bowman clearly won the deal, and it wasn't due to the electric playoff performance of Kim Johnsson. In that trade Bowman acquired Minnesota's 2009 first round pick, the home-grown Nick Leddy, a former high school Mr. Hockey of his native state. Expectations were high for Leddy, but for possibly a year or two down the road as a potential replacement for Brian Campbell, as they are similarly built and play similar games. However, due to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald that was John Scott, Nick Boynton, and to a lesser degree Jassen Cullimore, Leddy was pressed into detail both at the beginning and the end of the year. Predictably, this led to more than a few moments of of both awe and apoplexia as Leddy tried to navigate the blue line, frequently paired with head case Duncan Keith. And, as has been a recurring theme this year, we find another player who was forced into a position he should have never had to be in to begin with.
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Contract Status: RFA after 2013 ($1.117 million cap hit, including bonuses)
Positives: It was clear from the pre-season that Leddy had all the tools to eventually succeed at the pro level. As a very swift skater who does so with his head up always looking to make a play on a rush, it was no shock as to why the Hawks' braintrust wanted him in the Barker trade. Additionally, for being on the smallish side, Leddy was not shy to initiate contact, both in the neutral zone and in his own end. And when given the opportunity, he did not fall prey to the affliction of finding opponent shin guards on shots from the point; it seemed like any time he unloaded from the line the shot would have eyes. Toward the end of the year and into the playoffs, there was visible improvement in his positioning and decision making, though they were still anything but 100% sound.
Negatives: The old warhorse of a hockey adage states that it takes about 200 games in the big show for young d-men to "figure it out", and Leddy certainly isn't an exception to that rule. Even through the playoffs, Leddy had numerous difficulties maintaining an appropriate gap between himself and a rushing forward, which often led to him being crossed up trying to turn as a puck carrier blew by him. This was exacerbated by playing with Duncan Keith who was slogging through issues of his own, and was anything but a safety net for the rook to work with, which led to the two yielding a shocking amount of breakaways against in spite of their collective speed. And for all Leddy's willingness in the physicality department, the fact of the matter is that he was often a boy competing against grown-ass men who had no problem swatting him aside.
Defining Moment: Leddy and Keith paired together proved to be a consistent adventure, very infrequently resulting in what Quenneville desired, which we're only speculating was a more concerted defensive effort from Keith, or a killer transition game with two puck-moving blue liners. Unfortunately, there were far too many breakaways against as a result of missed pinch attempts or miscommunication, none more sadly comical than Chris Stewart's late season goal where both Keith and Leddy were beat. Badly.
Outlook: Here's where it gets dicey. Leddy clearly has all the tools to be a top-4 defensemen in the league for a long time, and needs true top-pairing minutes in Rock Vegas to hone all of them. At this stage in his development, along with the Hawks' championship window being as open as it can possibly be, having him at the adults' table is a lose-lose. Any top-4 minutes aren't going to give him the margin for error he needs to make mistakes and learn from them. If left in the bottom pair, it's a risk of severely stunting his development due to a simple lack of ice time. However, because Stan Bowman already let his contract vest and started the clock on his pending restricted free agency, he'll be about as likely to leave Leddy in The A as I am to pen a dissertation on how awesome Radiohead is. This also has a ramification throughout the roster, because if we assume that Chris Campoli is returning, that leaves 4 guys that want to free-wheel from blue line, and the Hawks still light in the ass as a team. But don't worry, John Scott is supposed to get more playing time, the physicality department should be covered with yet another doubled-down-on managerial mistake.
Final Grade: C+. It's difficult to give too high or low a mark to Leddy, who pretty much was exactly what he was supposed to and could be under the circumstances. He still appears to have a solid NHL career ahead of him, and for right now the experience this year, particularly in the playoffs, can only help. But if the Hawks continue to jerk him around, they're risking negatively impacting both the player and the organization as a whole.