When Doug Weight took over from Jack Capuano midway through last season, one of the first Islanders that Weight challenged to be better was Nick Leddy.
Not that Leddy had been poor during the first half of the season — he did have seven goals and 14 assists in the first 41 games — but Weight saw in Leddy, and still sees, a defenseman with the sort of skill set to be mentioned alongside the game’s elite defensemen.
“He should be in the conversation for those (All-Star) teams and Norris Trophies,” Weight said. “He can skate, he can shoot, he’s a savvy player as well. Maybe he doesn’t have the deception of a (Brent) Burns or a (Erik) Karlsson, but there’s probably three people in the world that do so I wouldn’t hold that against him. He’s right there in that upper echelon of D and he’s going to be big for us this year for sure.”
Leddy has led Islanders defensemen in scoring each of his three seasons here and sometimes it’s easy to forget that he’s still only 26. Now as he enters his eighth year in the NHL, Weight may lean on Leddy even more — the defenseman averaged 22:43 a game last year and Weight could see him going over 24 minutes a night on a regular basis.
For the soft-spoken Minnesotan, there’s lots of room to improve off last season’s career bests in goals (11) and points (46).
“Obviously in the D zone, always keep getting better is my main objective,” said Leddy, who is already 15th on the franchise scoring list for defensemen with 123 points. “But also jumping in the play more, shooting the puck more, getting more pucks to the net and getting myself into those shooting areas to create opportunities.”
Leddy heads into the season as the lone defenseman on the first power-play unit, one that now has Mathew Barzal distributing from the side wall. Barzal’s playmaking ability will likely free up Leddy to be in shooting position, something he’s needed reminders from Weight over the past couple seasons of power-play work.
And Leddy is paired with Johnny Boychuk, a duo that was dominant at even strength when the two were acquired within an hour of one another on the eve of the 2014-15 season. Capuano paired Leddy with Travis Hamonic the first half of last season and both struggled; Weight reunited Leddy and Boychuk and the two were again solid possession-wise the second half of last year.
“He’s an engine,” Weight said. “When he’s on his game we generally win and we generally look like we have the puck. Everybody comes off the ice, coaching staff says, ‘Geez, he can skate the puck, he can get out of trouble, he can create.’ I want to be saying that after a lot of games. It’s not easy to defend, some games are obviously tougher than others in that regard, but for the most part he’s getting more consistent.”