Nick Leddy making quiet jump from college to pros

By Jason Menard

Making the jump from the collegiate ranks to the pro game can be a challenge at the best of time — and the Chicago Blackhawks have thrown recent acquisition Nick Leddy right into the fire in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ rookie tournament, being held in London, ON.

Leddy, the Minnesota Wild’s first-round selection (16th overall) in 2009, was acquired last February by the Blackhawks in conjunction with Kim Johnsson. Cam Barker went the other way in the deal. So far, Leddy’s been enjoying his experience with the Windy City club.

“It’s been awesome. It’s been a lot of fun here,” Leddy said. “I came here a couple of weeks ago and worked with some of the guys to get back into condition. They’re just great guys and the welcomed me in and it’s been a lot of fun.”

His transition’s been eased by the fact that he’s been focusing on training to date. “It’s mostly the same,” he said. “Training’s going to be pretty similar, just with a different trainer and different methods.”

Leddy finished last season with three goals and eight assists in 30 games for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers in the NCAA. This year, he’s participating in the rookie tournament and hoping to earn a camp invite. He’s realistic about his goals — and the potential challenges he may face in this, his first professional season.

“Overall it’s a lot different than college — there’s no school for one,” he said. “It’s been good so far. We’ll see how the season goes. I’m sure I’ll get tired jumping from 40 games to 80 games is a big difference, but we’ll take it day to day and see how it goes.

“It’s fast-paced hockey. Obviously the guys are a lot bigger. It was definitely a bigger game — a man’s game.”

Bill Peters, the Rockford Ice Dogs’ head coach and the coach of Chicago’s entry in the Leafs’ rookie tournament, is excited about Leddy’s potential.

“He’s a real good skater. He’s a real intelligent player and he sees the ice well. He’s a guy that when he gets playing on our team and we get some structure to our game and he knows our players, he’s going to be able to use all of his skills,” Peters explained. “He’s very elusive, he’s hard to forecheck against, he makes smart plays. I think he’s going to be really good on our power play eventually, once he gets comfortable on it.

“I wouldn’t think he’s comfortable on it right now at 19 years old, but he’s a guy with a huge upside.”

Right now, Leddy admits that he’s trying to maximize his transition by focusing on the things he can control.

“My strengths are the simple plays, helping get the puck out. I’ve got pretty good vision and I can make plays,” he said, adding that he’s planning on being measured in his risk-taking. “You have to take risks here and there, but I have to keep playing my game and not do anything too risky or something that your game doesn’t really involved.

“Hopefully, I’ll keep playing good. Hopefully we can keep winning games, and hopefully we can keep getting it done.”

Leddy is very soft-spoken off the ice and his coach admits that his lack of volume on the ice translates in the dressing room. However, it’s on the ice where Leddy speaks loudest, Peters added.

“I think his play speaks for Nick Leddy. I don’t think he’s a real loud guy, but he’s a very confident player,” Peters said. “He’s a young guy and he’s got one year of university hockey under his belt. Now he’s played a full game. I liked him early in the game, he’s moving the puck. He’s tough to forecheck and that allows you to break the puck out and go play offense.

“I think he’s going to be really good for us in transition this season.”

And while Leddy may be quiet, he admitted to enjoying turning the crowd volume down — especially in hostile rinks. In the club’s opening game of the tournament, Leddy and his mates faced a raucous London crowd who were in the throes of cheering for the nearby Leafs and hometown hero Nazem Kadri.

“Oh definitely, you always want to shut up the home crowd, but things weren’t going our way tonight,” Leddy said. “We took a couple of penalties and they took advantage of our mistakes.”

In the end, Leddy’s not looking too far ahead when it comes to setting his goals. In fact, he’s focused on the here and now.

“I just keep working on my game, doing the little things right,” he said. “Obviously, we want to start winning games. We have to come back out tomorrow and win.”

And as Chicago suffered a 7-3 loss to Ottawa in game two of the tournament, he’ll have to wait until Tuesday to make that first short-term goal a reality.