CHICAGO – Nick Leddy’s hockey universe used to be a pretty small place.
Leddy won Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey Award in 2009 as the state’s best high school player. That summer, he was the first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Wild. He then headed to play for the Minnesota Gophers for a year of development.
And then, all of a sudden, Leddy’s hockey world changed direction.
Geographically speaking, it headed south. Careerwise, it headed north.
At 19 years old, Leddy was traded to the Blackhawks along with veteran defenseman Kim Johnsson. In exchange, the Wild received defenseman Cam Barker.
Since that deal Feb. 12, 2010, Johnsson has retired. Barker’s NHL career flamed out, and he headed to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Meanwhile, at 23, Leddy has won a Stanley Cup championship ring. He’s hoping to win another ring this season with the Hawks, who have a chance to eliminate the St. Louis Blues on Sunday in Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinals at the United Center.
“I definitely couldn’t have projected this, that’s for sure,” Leddy said.
To be fair, nobody could have projected this.
A host of TV cameras will focus on Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook as he returns to the lineup Sunday after a three-game suspension for his hit on Blues forward David Backes. Seabrook will play alongside Duncan Keith, who has a Norris Trophy on his résumé and could win it again this year as the league’s top defenseman.
Few, if any, cameras will look for Leddy or fellow steady second-tier defensemen such as Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival.
That’s fine with Leddy, who is one of the quietest players in the Hawks’ locker room. Let other players have the spotlight. He just wants to play hockey.
“I’d say I’ve developed a lot here,” said Leddy, whose parents still live in Minnesota. “I’m more mature on the ice and off the ice. I would say I have more confidence on and off the ice, as well. More confidence was a huge thing for me.”
Teammates and coaches have noticed.
A year ago, Leddy slumped badly in the playoffs and saw his ice time reduced because of it. This season has been a different story, as Leddy has averaged more than 16 minutes of ice time during the series against the Blues.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville praised Leddy after a win in Game 4.
“I thought he had the puck a lot more,” said Quenneville, a former defenseman who played 13 seasons in the NHL. “He was dangerous off the rush, had a good gap, good patience with the puck and [good] play recognition. I thought he was good.”
If you ask his teammates, Leddy has a chance to be great.
“He’s still a young guy, No. 1,” Oduya said. “That’s something we can’t forget. He’s been around for numerous years and he has a lot of experience for being that young. I think, for him, he’s been really, really good the whole year.
“I think he has a bright future. It’s one more step for him to take to get to that elite level, but it’s something that he can do, guaranteed. I think [it comes down to] not rushing too much, working your way into it, and I think he will be all right.”
Leddy knows that he’ll have to work hard to approach the status of Keith and Seabrook. He watches aspects of Keith’s game and tries to apply it to his own, such as the way Keith forces opponents to rush plays or the way that Keith skates so fluidly in the offensive zone.
Mostly, Leddy stays focused on making the right play instead of the highlight-reel play. He has found a home with the Hawks, and this is his favorite time of year.
He never could have projected this.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.