Eden Prairie senior defenseman Nick Leddy seems as if he's been on the local hockey radar forever. Who among those paying attention isn't aware of his smooth skating and adept handling of the puck?
That said, check out Leddy's new look.
After some rigorous offseason training, Leddy (6 feet, 185) has added what Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith called "15 pounds of muscle." It shows in many ways and perhaps puts Leddy on track to join an impressive and long list of recent Minnesota-born defensemen chosen high in the NHL draft.
Where he once might simply have gotten in an opponent's way, Leddy has shown he can now put him on his backside. He did just that with an impressive one-two combination of hits during the Eagles game with Edina last month.
"Any time you can put on that kind of muscle mass and not lose a stride -- in fact, get quicker -- it's going to help your game," Smith said. "It's made his shot stronger, his passes harder, it's made him more durable as teams take runs at him. So it's just made him an all-around better player."
Leddy said he worked hard over the summer with Kevin Ziegler, a respected local trainer who is an instructor at the Velocity Hockey Center in Eden Prairie. "A lot of leg work," Leddy said. "You've got to have power in the legs."
He already had established his staying power. Leddy committed to the Gophers in the summer of 2007, which was prior to his junior year. He jumped at the chance to follow in the footsteps of such standout defensemen as Jordan Leopold and Paul Martin, guys he looked up to while growing up.
Both Leopold and Martin are now playing in the NHL, along with former Gophers Keith Ballard, Erik Johnson and Alex Goligoski. Leddy appears to have the skills to be selected in the first two rounds of the 2009 NHL draft.
Smith points to Leddy's vision on the ice, his skating and his commitment at both ends as his greatest attributes.
"When people ask me who he is like, I think he is really close to [former Elk River star] Paul Martin," Smith said. "He can join the rush, but when the play goes the other way he's right back in his own zone doing what he needs to do defensively. He's the full deal, and that's what I think the NHL guys are seeing in him. He can run a power play, he can penalty kill. Every situation, he's built for it."
Opposing teams often tried to be physical with Leddy last season to try getting him off his game. That tactic is less effective this season because of his added bulk, but that hasn't prevented Leddy from being the other team's focus whenever he is on the ice.
"There is no question that teams are trying to take him away in certain situations," Smith said. "The good thing is, with his skills, he still can do the things he needs to do to help us win."
Leddy has been playing on the Eagles varsity since his sophomore year. He passed on an offer to play in the U.S. Developmental Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., because he wanted to stay home and "play with my buds," he said.
So far, so good. The Eagles' only two losses this season, after a 3-1 victory over Burnsville on Thursday night, were one-goal decisions against Edina and Bloomington Jefferson, the top two ranked teams in the state.
Leddy has three goals and seven assists for a team that gets scoring from several sources. Still, the decision to stay did not come easily.
"Ann Arbor is such a special place," Leddy said. "You get to play against college teams, which helps you get ready for that level of competition. In the end it seemed best for me to stay here and try to get to the state tournament."