Nick Leddy is quiet by nature and in many ways, his style of play embodies those same thoughtful and discrete characteristics. Leddy is a smart, mobile and steady d-man, but when the 28-year-old catches the puck on his stick and ever so slightly tilts his glance up-ice; there's no ignoring the mayhem that will soon unfold.
At the flip of a switch, Leddy has an innate ability to explosively advance his 6-foot, 208-pound frame through vast space quickly while protecting the puck with great care. Once he makes the decision to take off, Leddy acts as a fourth forward as he surgically extrapolates a clear path tup ice.
"He's probably one of the best skaters in the league," Brock Nelson said. "He can really turn the jets on and carry the puck up and take it with care. He can really come out of the d-zone and out of the rush in the neutral zone and attack a defender to create time and space for us [forwards]. He's able to make those plays so easily and confidently and it really opens up a lot for us to get the offense going."
Nelson knows the drill when he sees Leddy start to rev his engine in the Isles' zone.
"I try to get out of the way for him and I tell him to go for it," Nelson said. "I just try to let him take it up through the neutral zone and get up the ice to keep space in front of us. I don't ever want to get in his way because I know he can beat guys pretty easily."
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Leddy's legs were on display on Dec. 31 against the Washington Capitals when he hauled the precious cargo end-to-end before dishing it off to Nelson in the high slot. There, Nelson rifled his wrister past Braden Holtby to score his 14th goal of the season and help the Isles to their eventual 4-3 divisional victory. The assist was Leddy's third in as many games.
"That's the way Nick is most effective," Head Coach Barry Trotz said. "He breaks pressure with his legs. He's able to deny pressure because of his legs. He can escape pressure because of his legs. When Nick is breaking pressure he's getting through the neutral zone, he then becomes an offensive threat."
The Isles defensively detailed systems encourage offense on the fly and it's a structure in which Leddy has excelled. Now, with nine seasons under his belt in the NHL, Leddy is confident in his ability to pinpoint the ideal times to jump the rush.
"I think a lot of it comes down to just playing to the systems," Leddy said. "They kind of encourage those quick breakouts or opportunities to jump a zone, but you have to be smart with it. You can't be reckless in choosing when so you kind of have to find the perfect lane."
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Despite missing eight total games throughout November and December - more than he missed in the previous four seasons combined - with a nagging lower-body injury, Leddy has quietly led Isles defenseman with 14 assists through his 30 games. His 17 points are second only to Ryan Pulock's 20.
"[My skating] is something I think I've always used and worked into my game," Leddy said. "I think maybe during playoffs last year it clicked a little more. Then, I really noticed I had more confidence in picking which times are appropriate for that. For me, defense is primary, but creating offense is still a big part of my game."
This season, the Isles have gone beyond regulation 12 times, four of which have resulted in a shootout. The Islanders have won nine of those 12 OT/shootout games and routinely, Leddy, Nelson and Anthony Beauvillier are the primary trio sent over the boards to take the first shift after regulation. Leddy's skating ability translates well to the extra ice in three-on-three overtime.
"Both him and Beau can hit those straight lines pretty quick especially with time and space that you get more of in OT," Nelson said. "They can beat guys pretty easily. So, you just try and get those guys the puck so they can use their speed to take guys on."
Across the NHL, Mathew Barzal garners the bulk of attention and praise for his shifty skating, and rightfully so, as the centerman has honed the craft of combining his meticulous edgework with his speed. An elite skater like Barzal recognizes Leddy's tremendous talent on his blades. Before Barzal broke into the NHL, the 22-year-old recalls admiring Leddy for those very capabilities.
"I remember watching him with my dad [when Leddy was playing for Chicago] and I said, 'Watch No. 8. He's the best skater in the league.'" Barzal recalled. "My dad watched it and was like, 'Yeah, that guy can move.'"
Barzal is not too proud to admit Leddy is in fact faster than him from a standstill.
"From a whistle, yeah he's faster. Once we get going, I can catch him in a lap," Barzal said with a big smile. "We're different skaters, I think. I'm more turning and twisting and he's more 100-yard dash sprinting speed. His skating in a straight line is the best in the league, I don't think there's a guy faster in the NHL from goal line to goal line."
One particular memory imprinted in Barzal's mind dates back to 2017 during his rookie season when Leddy went stride-for-stride with Edmonton's Connor McDavid on Nov. 7, 2017. While the Oilers ultimately converted on the play in overtime, it was a rare occasion to see any player keep pace with a skating prodigy like McDavid. Since then, there's been countless other instances that have mesmerized the peers and superiors of Leddy alike.
"To me, he might be the most elite skater in the league," Trotz said. "That's tough to say with Barzy and McDavid, but pure end-to-end speed he might be. I remember our game in Chicago when [Patrick] Kane was two zones ahead of him and he caught him. I don't remember seeing that ever anywhere. Pure end-to-end speed, he might be as good as I've ever seen."
Leddy's presence may fly under the radar and the stat sheet may not always reflect his impact, but the night-in and night-out the defenseman is vital to the Isles defensive core - even more so with Adam Pelech out for the regular season - and Leddy is a true catalyst in creating offense. And it starts with his skating.
"When he's skating and he's moving his feet there's really no one who can catch him or skate with him," Barzal said. "It makes it so much easier on the whole group. He can be as good as anyone when it comes to breaking pucks out and leading the neutral zone rushes. He can really make a difference. It's been great to see him have some success."