Earlier today during a chat on ESPNChicago.com a rather savvy reader asked Blackhawks beat reporter Scott Powers a particularly enlightened question…

 

Based on his response it would appear that the question was just a little too good for the forum in fact.  So I thought I would take it upon myself to do the digging that a professional beat reporter could not. 

I’ve made no bones about the fact that I’m a big Nick Leddy fan.  He’s a 22 year old defenseman wrapping up his third season in the league – having only played the equivalent of two seasons though due to this year’s shortened calendar and his getting called up half way through the 2010-11 campaign. 

In 2009 he was named Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey as the top high school hockey player in the state.  That summer he was drafted by the hometown Minnesota Wild with the 16th pick in the draft and played his freshman year at the University of Minnesota.  In February of 2012 Leddy and Kim Johnsson were acquired by the Blackhawks for their own promising young defenseman Cam Barker.  One would say that trade has worked out better for one side than the other (and no one has ever heard from Kim Johnsson since). 

Leddy made his Hawks debut in the fall of 2010 and has followed a steady ascent since.  He went from a 19 year old learning the ropes of the professional game as a 6th defenseman in 2010, to an evolving talent as the Blackhawks 5th defenseman last year, and now being paired with Brent Seabrook recently his game has reached a new level as he is arguably the 3rd best blueliner on the team as a 22 year old. 

Leddy, Brandon Saad, and Viktor Stalberg share the title of the fastest skaters on the team today and his presence on the power play in particular gives the Hawks their most offensive potential.  Some of his rushes this year have been, dare I say… Bobby Orr-esque.

So as Leddy has climbed the ranks of the Blackhawks organization and caught the attention of the Chicago fan base, the larger question is, have the rest of the league and top brass of USA Hockey taken notice?

Team USA fielded a defensive corps of Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Mike Komisarek, Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, Brian Rafalski, and Ryan Suter in Vancouver in 2010.  That team was good enough to win a silver medal but as with every Olympic cycle, there is bound to be roster turnover.  Rafalski has retired, Komisarek is trying to hang on to a career that now has him in the minors with Toronto, and the shine has worn off of the promise that was Erik and Jack Johnson to some degree.  

Per this website, which makes an early speculation as to team USA’s roster pool for this coming summer, our country has continued to produce top notch talent on the back end.  New names fighting for the same roster spots as Leddy include St. Louis’ Kevin Shattenkirk, Phoenix’s Keith Yandle, Tampa Bay’s Matt Carle, Washington’s John Carlson, and Winnipeg’s Zach Bogosian and Dustin Byfuglien, just to name a few. 

That certainly is some heady company no doubt, but I don’t know that a year from now Leddy isn’t the best candidate among them.  The Blackhawks are poised for a deep run in the playoffs this spring which will bring Leddy significant experience and exposure on a national stage.  This season his 6 goals (in 42 games) are just short of doubling his career total coming into the season and most impressively his +16 rating is a 180 degree turn from his -15 overall career rating at the end of last season.

To make the Olympic team it will all come down to what type of squad team USA wishes to field.  Historically our national program has built around the gritty hardworking athletes our country tends to produce.  While the Russians or Swedes for example tend to build around skill and style, the Americans have always defaulted to size and stability.  The US model generally assures that they are able to stay in every game they play, but it also has produced very little in terms of results.   

On the international ice which they Olympics are played the rink is bigger and more wide open.  With the talent pool changing here domestically now may be the time for the team to take advantage of that space by beginning to incorporate more of a puck moving defensive philosophy.  Players like Leddy and Matt Carle would be the ideal bridges to this style of play which when done correctly can result in more consistent shiny hardware on the podium.

So maybe it’s not a lock that Leddy is playing in Sochi next February.  Nothing will automatically be given to him, that’s for sure.  But watching him play on a night in and night out basis, making the strides that he has over the past three years, I can tell you with a clear conscience that there’s nothing I would put past him.