The Islanders identified Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy as two top-four defensemen that were already solid on their old teams, but had a chance to be great on Long Island. Their talent ceilings didn’t change as a result of Saturday’s trades from Boston and Chicago, respectively, they were just given clearer paths to reach it.
“As soon as I got here I saw that I was going to be having a bigger role here than what it was in Boston,” Boychuk said. “I’m up for the challenge and I can’t wait to get in front of these fans.”
Boychuk is known around the league for his booming shot, physical play and for being a heart-and-soul defenseman. Former Bruin and current Islanders goalie Chad Johnson and his former teammates revere his toughness – in Boston, that’s saying something. Boychuk led the Bruins in blocked shots last season (151) and finished third in hits (158). He makes good decisions with the puck, as evidenced by his 31 giveaways in 75 games.
“He’s a passionate hockey player and does what it takes to win hockey games for the team,” Johnson said. “It’s a big trade for us to get a guy like that. We’ll be able to use him a lot more than Boston.”
The Bruins leaned on Boychuk to anchor their second pairing and shut down the opposition, but his shot went under-utilized. His nickname in Boston was Johnny Rocket, and teammates in front of the net wished he’d use his wrist shot more often. Now, Boychuk gets his opportunity to quarterback a power play on Long Island, and let the rocket launch.
“It’s probably one of the hardest shots in the league,” Johnson said. “Today it was the talk of the practice. I know from last year that he can pound the puck pretty good.”
Leddy also comes from a similar situation. He’s a very talented, proven and reliable defenseman who played behind Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook in Chicago. On another team, he’s got top-pairing talent, but unseating Keith and Seabrook just wasn’t in the cards with the Blackhawks.
After taking a first-hand look at the smooth-skating defenseman, the Islanders were impressed.
“He skates like the wind,” Travis Hamonic said. “You could just see him out there and it looks pretty effortless, and he moves the puck with the best of them in the league.
Leddy averaged 16:22 TOI last season, the lowest among Chicago’s top-six defensemen, despite finishing with the third most points (7-24-31) and more power-play points than Seabrook. Head Coach Jack Capuano tried Leddy out on the second unit Monday and is giving him a chance to stake a claim on the power play.
“Nick’s a guy who is a great skater and he’s very deceptive moving the puck” Capuano said. “He’s a guy who we are going to give an opportunity to as well.”
Leddy should expect to see his ice time go up on Long Island, with or without power-play minutes. He practiced with Boychuk on a top-two pairing Monday.
This is going to be a great team and people shouldn’t take us lightly anymore. - Johnny Boychuk
"That'd be great, but I also have to work for it,” Leddy said. “You can't really expect anything, you have to work on it and get better every day."
Boychuk and Leddy are impact players who come from winning cultures, having each won a Stanley Cup in the past four years. They even played against each other in the 2013 Final, which Leddy’s Blackhawks won in six games. They immediately become the Islanders most experienced post-season players and rank second and third in total games played amongst defensemen.
They’ll be a veteran pairing leading a young defensive core on the upswing.
“Both guys bring something a little bit different to the table that we didn't necessarily have back there,” Hamonic said. “So you add that into what I feel is a pretty solid defensive core, and things are looking up for us back there.”
The new blueliners’ presence has a positive trickle-down effect on the Islanders depth chart, igniting fierce competition for the final spots.
“This is going to be a great team and people shouldn’t take us lightly anymore,” Boychuk said. “They’ve done some good things and I think it’s going to be a good challenge for every team to come in and play us.”
By allowing Boychuk and Leddy to reach their full potential, the Islanders may just reach theirs.