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Staying home paid off for 'Mr. Hockey' Leddy

Friday, 03.20.2009 / 9:00 AM / 2009 NHL Entry Draft

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

Veteran Eden Prairie (Minn.) High School coach Lee Smith was in a bit of a quandary this season -- albeit a good one.

On one hand, senior defenseman Nick Leddy is a fantastic puck distributor. On the other hand, he also possesses one heck of a shot.

So what is a coach to tell his budding blue-chip prospect?

Smith decided on, "Use your discretion."

In 29 games this season, the senior established career highs on the varsity level with 11 goals and 44 points. The Eden Prairie native, winner of the prestigious "Mr. Hockey" Award as this season's top scholastic player in Minnesota, also played an integral role in the school's first state championship.

"We've been trying to get him to shoot more because he's got such a great shot, but he's so unselfish with the puck and makes such good decisions -- he can really set up his teammates," Smith told NHL.com.

On top of his offensive prowess, Leddy, who serves as one of the team's co-captains, also is hard-nosed. He added 15 pounds to his 5-foot-11, 180-pound frame over the summer.

"While I consider myself more of an offensive defenseman since my skating is definitely the best part of my game, I've kind of grown into that physical-type player because I realize I need to protect myself, as well," said Leddy. "Last year I took a few cheap shots, so I've learned how to protect myself and have gotten a lot better at hitting. I wasn't as aggressive early in my career, but now I know when to be."

"He's grown into his body and he feeds off teams trying to take him out by matching that physicality," Smith said. "He's gotten good at initiating contact, so he hasn't allowed people to check him. He's getting to them first."

That's certainly music to the ears of NHL personnel, who might take a chance on Leddy, who turned 18 on March 20, at the 2009 Entry Draft in June. NHL Central Scouting ranked Leddy 25th among North American skaters in its midterm rankings, and third-best among U.S. scholastic players.

Leddy, who will play at the University of Minnesota in the fall, often has been compared to former Minnesota high school greats Jake Gardiner of Minnetonka and Aaron Ness of Roseau. At the 2008 Entry Draft, Gardiner was taken No. 17 by the Anaheim Ducks, while Ness, the 2008 Mr. Hockey Award recipient, was tabbed by the Islanders at No. 40.

"Those two players had the capability of taking over a game," Smith said. "I feel Gardiner, Ness and Leddy are probably the best three defensemen I've seen in some time. They are just the total package and can change the complexion of a game on offense without sacrificing their defensive responsibilities."

Central Scouting's Jack Barzee agreed with Smith.

"To be perfectly honest, I'm tired of watching him go coast-to-coast; he's such an explosive skater," Barzee told NHL.com. "It's pretty obvious he's a target of every opposing team because he's the engine that drives the train. Really, though, he's a world-class skater. I'd even say he's in the same class as John Moore (Central Scouting's No. 8-ranked skater) and Josh Birkholz (No. 33) of this year's class."

Barzee said Leddy began coming on strong last season, when he posted 5 goals and 29 points in 20 games at Eden Prairie. Internationally, he was a member of Team USA's Under-18 and U-17 teams. At the 2008 U-18 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament, Leddy posted 2 assists in four games.

Leddy's love of high school hockey and the possibility of assisting in the school's first state title this season were the reasons he forego an opportunity to play for the U.S. National Team Development Program.

"My parents didn't really want me to go, either, and it was my senior year -- it would be my last year with all my friends here," Leddy said. "I wouldn't be able to play with many of these kids ever again, so I wanted to stay. The state tournaments are really big here in Minnesota and I wanted to get to play in it because I've never been there before."
"While I consider myself more of an offensive defenseman since my skating is definitely the best part of my game, I've kind of grown into that physical-type player because I realize I need to protect myself, as well. Last year I took a few cheap shots, so I've learned how to protect myself and have gotten a lot better at hitting. I wasn't as aggressive early in my career, but now I know when to be." -- Nick Leddy
Leddy's mission was accomplished March 14 when Eden Prairie (28-3) earned its first state championship with a 3-0 defeat of Moorhead in the Class AA final, played at Xcel Energy Center, home of the NHL's Minnesota Wild. Leddy had a goal and an assist in the game.

"(The USNTDP) invited him to go out there and every USHL team wanted him to play, but he really wanted to try and win a state tournament for his community," Smith said. "There isn't one person in this town that doesn't look at him and say this kid works his tail off. If your best player works as hard as he does, it sets the right tone for everyone."

Leddy enjoys watching the fast-paced style of today's NHL.

"It used to be a big hitting League and the defensemen used to have to be bigger to play, but it's gotten smaller and faster and that will only help me," he said.

Smith knows Leddy's dedication to improve his skating, shot and aggressiveness will go a long way in establishing his reputation.

"Last season he played at about 165 pounds and this year he's pushing 180, so he really dedicated himself over the summer and fall to get a lot bigger," Smith said. "He's never going to be much taller than 6-1, but his game is made for the new kind of NHL, with the focus on skills, skating and ability to maneuver with the puck. I think the smaller defensemen in the NHL make it because of their skating, and that's Nick's best asset."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.