Defenseman Nick Leddy is coming on strong for Islanders
Doug Weight and the Islanders coaching staff had high hopes for Nick Leddy this season. With a defense corps that featured lots of options and potential combinations coming into the year, there was no doubt who Weight was counting on to lead the group.
After posting no goals and just two assist in the first nine games, Weight was certainly left wanting more from Leddy, the closest player the Isles have to a prototypical No. 1 defenseman.
Weight hasn’t been left wanting since. Leddy has 14 points in his last 11 games to vault into the top 10 in the NHL in goals (five) and points (16) for defensemen and is showing the speed and aggressiveness that the Isles have long felt the 26-year-old has to offer.
“I feel like, it’s maybe beyond, he’s taken it a little higher,” Weight said of the expectations on Leddy. “We’ve seen the explosiveness, but what he’s done on a more regular basis, he just wants to go. Even if he’s not the eye of the snake, carrying the puck every time, he’s getting up with an authority. He wants it.”
Weight had an interesting viewpoint on why Leddy started last season so slowly, as did the Islanders. Jack Capuano partnered Travis Hamonic with Leddy for the majority of the first half and it was a pair that struggled nightly — the pairing gave up 143 more even-strength shots against than for when on the ice together and six more even-strength goals against than for, according to Natural Stat Trick.
“It’s something he struggled with playing with Hammer because Hammer is such an assertive player, he always got up (the ice) and Nick was like, ‘OK dog, that’s cool. I’ll go next time, maybe,’” Weight said. “Now he’s up, he’s gapping well and he wants to be part of that rush. I think that’s in repetition, that’s in a mindset now of taking that next step as a player.”
Leddy and Johnny Boychuk have been the no-doubt top pair since Weight put them back together once he took over as coach last January, save for a stretch when Boychuk was injured late last season. So far in 2017-18 the pair has been a modest plus-18 in shots for/against at even strength but a very robust plus-8 in goals scored while on the ice five on five.
“I’ve said this before, Johnny and I have melded pretty good,” Leddy said. “Played together on and off for a little over three years now. We know what each other’s going to do, we know when the other’s going to jump. We complement each other really well.”
Leddy’s two-point contribution in Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Hurricanes illustrated what Weight has liked of late. Leddy’s solo rush from near his own blue line, into the Carolina zone, eluding two opposing players to fire one over Cam Ward’s shoulder was a display of unparalleled skating and skill, at least among the Isles defensemen.
And his shot/pass that John Tavares tipped home on the power play in the third gave Leddy five power-play points this season.
“I think he’s been much better on the blue line on the power play,” Weight said. “He’s taken a step as a quarterback, more so than relying on (Mathew Barzal) or (Josh Bailey) or Johnny to be that guy. He’s shooting more, with those deceptive moves. I’ve been impressed with his game.”
Notes & quotes: Thomas Greiss gets the start in goal Wednesday against the Flyers in Brooklyn. Cal Clutterbuck, who missed the two weekend games with an illness, returns Wednesday and Alan Quine will sit out. Dennis Seidenberg and Scott Mayfield, who were healthy scratches on Saturday and Sunday, return as the third pair, with Thomas Hickey and Ryan Pulock out on Wednesday.