The headline-grabbing story from the Blackhawks organization on Wednesday night was obviously the trade sending Jack Skille to Florida for Michael Frolik. But one of the strong subplots from the actual game is the increased confidence the coaches are showing in rookie Nick Leddy.
After a pathetic loss in Calgary, head coach Joel Quenneville put the team through a bag skate and then mixed his defensive pairings. He split up all three pairs, and perhaps the most surprising move was putting the rookie with Duncan Keith.
When the dust settled, nobody noticed that Leddy had spent most of the night with Keith.
And that was the point.
Leddy was credited with one blocked shot and one takeaway in the win, but what’s more important is that there wasn’t a glaring weakness on the ice at any point last night. Keith wasn’t making silly turnovers or over-compensating for the teenager on his wing; the kid stepped up.
Here are the final ice time minutes for the Blackhawks defensemen last night:
- Duncan Keith – 25:11
- Brent Seabrook – 22:43
- Brian Campbell – 18:59
- Niklas Hjalmarsson – 17:21
- Nick Leddy – 17:20
- Jordan Hendry – 13:25
This has to be the ideal, best-case-scenario for the Blackhawks now and moving forward. Among these six are five legitimate top-four defensemen included and the coaches are now assigning ice time accordingly. Last night was the third time in 18 NHL games that Leddy played more than 17 minutes, and the first time his workload has been that heavy since he skated 19:50 in place of Campbell on Oct. 13 against Nashville.
Now consider the average ice time in January for the Blackhawks top four:
- Keith – 26:12
- Seabrook – 24:28
- Campbell – 24:51
- Hjalmarsson – 19:34
All four played fewer minutes last night than they averaged in January, which is a wonderful thing. If the Blackhawks continue to work Leddy into situations where he can succeed and help the team, and can do so in a way that helps cut the workload for the veteran top-four, the play should be better.
Kudos to Quenneville for breaking character and putting faith in a teenager last night. Hopefully we see more of this in the future.