Will Chicago Blackhawks D-Man Nick Leddy Live Up to His Potential in 2013-14?

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 2, 2014

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 17: Nick Leddy #8 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on December 17, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
John Russell/Getty Images

Nick Leddy doesn't find himself in the headlines very often for the Chicago Blackhawks.

That's not surprising on a team that is loaded with superstars. Why would anyone concentrate on the No. 5 or 6 defenseman when other blueliners like Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson are so capable of making game-changing plays.

However, when the Blackhawks acquired Leddy from the Minnesota Wild in 2010 (with Kim Johnsson for Cam Barker), it was good for reason. 

The Blackhawks liked Leddy's size, speed and athleticism, and while it has taken him quite a while to become a consistent player, he appears to have made quite a bit of progress in that area.

Leddy made a big move during last year's championship season. He registered six goals, 12 assists and, more importantly, finished with a plus-15 rating. 

That was the first time that he had a positive plus/minus rating in his career.

However, the Blackhawks stapled Leddy to the bench in the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final last year. He averaged less than five minutes of ice time in Games 4, 5 and 6, as head coach Joel Quenneville decided he needed to go with his most experienced players in those vital games.

The Blackhawks won all three of those games to earn their second Stanley Cup in four seasons.

"(When) you're in that position, you want to play and be a part of it (and) you just have to work your way back," Quenneville told Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune. "We want to make sure he's confident and comfortable out there."

Leddy has done that this season. As he has grown more confident and capable, Leddy has scored five goals and 13 assists in his first 42 games. He has a plus-nine rating and is averaging 16:37 of ice time per game.

Leddy has also demonstrated his competence in the game's modern metric. According to Extra Skater, he has a 56.4 Corsi For percentage at even strength, a figure that makes him the third-highest-rated defenseman on the team behind Seabrook and Keith.

One of the areas that Leddy has been working on this year has been to become a more decisive player. Whether it's blocking shots, carrying the puck or making passes, Leddy is trying to do each of those things with more power and precision.

The same holds true for shooting the puck from the point. Leddy knows that his shots have a chance to ignite the offense and he has been working on getting his shot away quicker. 

"That creates a lot of offense," Leddy told Kuc. "If you look at some of the goals in the playoffs, that's where a lot of goals came from — a shot from the point and rebounds."

Leddy plans to get even more involved in the offense because the top offensive defensemen in the league regularly pound away from the point.

"If you look at [the Ottawa Senators’] Erik Karlsson, he has, like, eight or nine shots a game," Leddy told Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times.

You wonder how a defenseman does that when I can barely get one or two. But you have to have a shooter’s mentality, and the offense will come if you keep putting pucks on the net—whether it goes in for you or gives someone else a chance.

Leddy and teammate Brandon Saad were among the American-born players on the Blackhawks who were invited to the preseason camp of the U.S. Olympic team. However, he was not given the opportunity to be a part of the team that will compete in Sochi next month.

Perhaps that was never realistic, since Leddy is still growing into his talent.

However, there's no reason that Leddy couldn't be among the top defensemen in the NHL four years from now when he could play a key role for the U.S. Olympic team.

He has the skating speed and tools to become an All-Star-type player. All he needs to do is to show his hunger and keep on climbing the ladder.