Even now, Nick Leddy can recall how thrilling it was to play in the Minnesota state high school hockey tournament at Xcel Energy Center. “It was unbelievable,” said Leddy, who helped Eden Prairie win the Class 2A title in 2009. “We had basically the whole high school in the upper stands. It just gives me jitters to think about it, and it was a few years ago.”
Like every hockey-loving kid in Minnesota, Leddy envisioned himself returning to the Xcel ice as an NHL player. He went one better Sunday, skating in an NHL playoff game for the first time in his home state. Since the Wild traded his NHL rights to Chicago in 2010, fewer people cheer for him when he plays in St. Paul, but Leddy’s family coordinated ticket requests from several who wanted to see the young defenseman make his Minnesota playoff debut.
Leddy, 22, didn’t take it personally when the Wild sent him to the Blackhawks along with Kim Johnsson in exchange for Cam Barker. He has flourished during three seasons in Chicago, and he has taken on a greater role this season for a team that leads the Wild two games to one in a first-round playoff series that resumes Tuesday at Xcel.
“This is my third time in the playoffs, and I feel more comfortable with every game I play,” said Leddy, who played all 48 games in the regular season and had six goals and 12 assists. “I’ve gotten better defensively this year, and I keep learning in every practice and every game.
“I was a little shocked [when traded by the Wild]. I learned the hard way that this is a business, and things happen. But this is my team now. I’m just focused on the present.”
Leddy was named Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey in 2009 and scored a goal and an assist in the state tournament that year to boost Eden Prairie to its first state title. He was chosen 16th overall in the 2009 NHL draft before playing one season with the Gophers.
His rights were traded while he was playing for the U in a deal that still elicits groans from Wild fans. Barker was a bust who lasted only 71 games with the Wild. Leddy continues to develop, earning more responsibility and ice time this season.
An excellent skater who can get the puck out of the defensive zone quickly, Leddy had three goals and 34 assists while playing all 82 games last season, but he also was a minus-12. This year, he worked on his game in the American Hockey League during the NHL lockout and became a stronger, more confident player, finishing the regular season with a plus-15 rating.
“He’s got unbelievable skating ability, and he uses that to his benefit,” said Brent Seabrook, Leddy’s defensive partner. “He always seems to make the right play. This year, he’s gotten stronger, he knows the game a little better and he’s matured as a player. He’s been great for us.”
Leddy is eager to continue improving in the playoffs. Last year, the Blackhawks were beaten by Phoenix in six games in the first round. To avoid a similar fate, Leddy said, his team must get back to its strengths before it leaves his hometown.
“[The Wild] played a great game [Sunday],” he said. “They were more physical than we were, and it definitely took a toll. We have to put that behind us and be better.’’