Saturday, May 14, 2022

Leddy's addition to Blues has proved to be invaluable

Defenseman helped shut down one of top stars in Kaprizov in first round; has 
helped stabilize position that was on shaky ground when acquired by St. Louis

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- Imagine knowing as late as the middle of March that the Blues would be facing the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and wondering who would draw the assignment of patrolling the ice trying to contain Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Nick Leddy's ability to neutralize Minnesota star Kirill 
Kaprizov at 5-on-5 proved to be beneficial in the opening round.

Kaprizov is so skilled, with his precise shot, quick-burst first step with high octane speed and what was described by someone in the Minnesota organization as a player "built like a brick shithouse."

Sure, the Blues had Colton Parayko and/or Justin Faulk to man the duties. They've been pressed into these situations all season long, but during a month when the Blues were floundering a bit, going 5-6-3, it was evident that they would need some help.

It may not have been the splashiest trade on March 21, the NHL Trade Deadline, but think about what Nick Leddy has meant to the Blues already. 

Hampus Lindholm, Ben Chiarot and Mark Giordano were some of the defensive headliners that were dealt, but Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said at the time of the trade that Leddy was someone they targeted -- and wanted. 

Sure, the 31-year-old defenseman and first-round pick of the Wild -- coincidentally -- and defenseman Luke Witkowski cost the Blues the popular Oskar Sundqvist, Jake Walman and a 2022 second-round pick, who went to the Detroit Red Wings, but acquiring the experienced Leddy, coming in with a whopping 121 games worth of playoff experience, a 2013 Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks who helped the New York Islanders to back-to-back Eastern Conference Final appearances the past two seasons, has paid huge dividends in not only puck retrievals, puck advancement and smooth skating abilities but also playing a shutdown role on the game's top players.

"A guy who's won before and knows what it takes and just so calm out there, never seems like he feels like he's in a panic," Blues center Tyler Bozak said of Leddy. "He always is making the right play, smooth and just a guy that we're also really lucky to have back there."

Leddy came onto the scene and could offer a variety of elements that could complement the team system but chose to make sure he simply fit in and see what was best. With Parayko, Faulk, Torey Krug, Marco Scandella, Robert Bortuzzo and a defensive unit that was seasoned, Leddy wanted to be a complementary piece, not the piece.

"I think you've just got to kind of let things play out and kind of find your place," Leddy said. "I think this is the part of the season too where winning is everything and you just got to try to mold to that.

"I think just getting chemistry with everyone is probably the biggest thing in my book and tendencies of players, but everyone made it so easy. Everybody is so consistent and that helped out big time."

The Blues were 15-4-2 down the stretch of the regular season with Leddy in the lineup, and he helped stabilize a back six playing with Parayko and Faulk. Including the three playoff wins, it's 18-4-2 with Leddy in the lineup.

Maybe Leddy's playoff mojo has rubbed off on his teammates.

"I don't know. That's hard for me to answer, but just trying to do the same things every day, every game and go from there," Leddy said.

"He’s steady, he’s a guy that breaks the puck out extremely well and he does a lot on his own back there," Blues center Robert Thomas said.

If anyone knows how good a skater and player Leddy is, it's Faulk. The two Minnesota natives train together there during the off-season.

"He's an unreal skater," Faulk said of Leddy. "I don't think he gets intimidated by someone that is also a very good skater. He can keep up with anyone in the league, that's for sure. I've known that, since I’ve seen him skate forever."

It came to fruition that the Blues would face the Wild in the first round, and 'Kirill the Thrill' would certainly put up some impressive numbers on top of the franchise-record 108 points (47 goals, 61 assists) he established in the regular season.

Kaprizov scored seven goals and had an assist on the six-game series in which the Blues won, but according to's numbers, when Leddy was matched up against Kaprizov in 5-on-5 situations, Leddy was a blanket; he held Kaprizov to zero points over three games (Games 1, 5 and 6; Leddy missed Games 2-4 with concussion symptoms) in 23:26 ice time.

Kaprizov, who scored three power-play goals and one empty-netter in the series, had four high-danger chances when Leddy was on the ice with him, but for the most part, it was slim pickings for the 25-year-old.

"It's a huge challenge," Leddy said. "That line especially, they've got great chemistry. They feed off him. I think that was a great challenge for the team and it wasn't just me, that's for sure. It was all six guys on the ice, forwards included.

"I think just taking time and space away as quick as possible. They're amazing players, they're going to get chances. I think you just got to try and limit them as much as possible."

What many players tend to do against the stars of the league is give them too much respect, which means time and space, more than they should get. Give those kinds of players that kind of space, and they'll more than likely torch you. 

Leddy made sure there would be no real estate in Game 1, and when he was ruled out for the next three, Kaprizov's talents were more noticeable. And when Leddy came back in Game 5, that time and space disappeared quickly.

"He does a great job of being tight on him and not giving too much room," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "He has the feet to stay with him and that’s important. Because (Kaprizov's) fast and he can spin off you easily. You've got to go at him hard but also you've also got to contain him, too, in certain situations because he’s the type of guy that you think you’re going to knock him off the puck and you don’t. He just spins right off you and creates separation."

And for Jordan Binnington, who stepped in for games 4-6 and earned the wins in each, communication is so important for a goalie and his defenseman in particular, and he's learned quickly how to utilize Leddy's abilities.

"He moves pretty smooth out there stride-wise," Binnington said. "He's always in the right spot. I think he's making strong plays. He's a smart defenseman. He's a great pickup. I think we've done a great job of playing hard together, all of us."

The reward for advancing past Kaprizov and the Wild is a date with the Colorado Avalanche and their plethora of weapons, including Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Cale Maker and others.

There's more to contain there, but Leddy will be one of those called upon to at the very least, limit their opportunities.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Nick Leddy's addition to the Blues defense has proven to be invaluable
down the stretch and into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I think it's not just a single person challenge," Leddy said. "I think it's going to be a team challenge. You look at the Blues all year, they play great team defense and we're going to have another big challenge ahead.

"They're both (MacKinnon and Kaprizov) very high-end players. I think they both have different tendencies, but I think at the end of the day, like I said, they're going to get chances. You just try to limit them the best you can."

A challenge Leddy is looking forward to.

"How could you not be? It's a great challenge obviously," he said. "They have a ton of skill, a ton of speed and they work hard. I think it's going to be a great team challenge."

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