While Andrew Ladd, John Tavares and others are spotlighted, defenseman Nick Leddy is a player to keep a watchful eye on for the 2016-17 campaign.
Recording a career-high 40 points (5G, 35A) last season, Leddy, at the raw age of 25, is entering his third go-round with the Islanders, and has the potential to scamper up into the one of the NHL’s premier blue-liner conversation.
Quarterbacking what’s set to be an explosive power-play unit and stationed as the Islanders’ No. 1 defenseman on staff, Leddy’s in a position, given both his age and talent-level, to potentially eclipse the 50-point or even 60-point threshold, and to generate scoring chances galore for a team on the cusp of climbing closer to a Cup Finals appearance.
The Islanders know this. Heck, if a seven-year, $38.5 million contract they delivered him last year wasn’t an inclination New York thought highly of him, perhaps Kyle Okposo may still be on the roster. A first-round draft choice (16th overall) back in 2009, the foreshadowing has always been apparent, but the expectations up until this point has never been higher.
Considering the prominent faces that found different sweaters to don this season are no longer in blue and orange, Leddy’s a leader now, and that at times brings the best out of players ready to take the next step. And given his ties to the Chicago Blackhawks, where he captured the Cup back in 2013 and was under the tutelage of superb professionals like Duncan Keith, the experience in what it takes to reach the mountain first is ever-relevant.
Leddy’s not only going to make others look good, but those others will make him look great.
A tremendously-gifted skater, Leddy’s savviness makes Tavares’ job that much easier, and when you’re collaborating alongside that kind of talent you’re going to flourish. That’s in no way claiming Leddy’s season is dependent on Tavares’ ability to make it come to fruition, it’s just an exclamation point when you’re envisioning the pieces aligning for him.
Of course, the stage is set and the microphone’s been tested, but is Leddy going to perform? Is he prepared to take the reins? The stat-progression suggests he’s due for a breakout, however, the chemistry with the new cast members must be prevalent, too. For this thing to work Leddy has to be systematically designed for a determined workhorse.
The minus-9 Leddy registered last season is going to have to be improved as well. In order to be a No. 1 defenseman, it’s a two-way swing. Yet, some may say it was simply a fluke, considering his first three NHL seasons he was plus-10 and above in each. It shouldn’t be an issue. Injuries and poor communication on assignments contributed to that minus-9.
By and large, Leddy is a dark horse for NHL defensemen this season. No one should be surprised if he’s able to manufacture a season where he’s ranked in the top 10 in scoring.
On the other hand, if he collects another 40-point season with a plus rating it’s certainly another stellar display of hockey on his part, but the recipe is there for him to build off that.
And if the script unfolds, and he’s posting monster numbers, look out Eastern Conference.