Sometimes, it just happens. Jordan Eberle and Tyler Seguin may have created spectacular moments with speed and skill, and Derek Stepan decided to hang out in front of the net to get some easy ones, but for a blueliner like Nick Leddy, it's as much about getting a shot through to the net as putting one on goal. In just his second NHL game, back on October 11 against the Buffalo Sabres, Leddy stepped up as a loose puck came out into the slot and unleashed a slapshot. The shot pinballed off of two Sabres' skates and into the net:
The journey to the first NHL game, and first NHL goal, is sometimes the culmination of years of hard work, dedication, and the obvious starting point to a long career. For a player like Leddy, however, it's merely a part of his journey. A milestone, no doubt, but hardly the end game, or even the start of something special. Two years ago, Leddy was playing for his high school in his hometown of Eden Prairie, Minnesota. His dominance of the high school circuit earned him the coveted Mr. Hockey award (not named after the actual Mr. Hockey) as the most outstanding senior player in Minnesota high schools. He had it all for a Minnesota kid: he was headed to play for the Golden Gophers in the NCAA, and was even drafted 16th overall by the Minnesota Wild. Near the end of his freshman year, Leddy's NHL rights were dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks along with Kim Johnsson for Cam Barker. So much for living in Minnesota his entire life.
Oddly enough, the trade probably helped his career prospects. He signed his first professional contract this past summer, dropping out of college to join the defending Stanley Cup Champions. A strong rookie camp was followed by a strong NHL training camp and preseason, which earned him a spot on the opening roster. The spots were available for the taking, with the Blackhawks having to cut a lot of players from their roster to get salary cap compliant following their magical run. But despite his obvious talent, at 19 years old and just one season removed from playing against high school kids, Leddy isn't quite ready for the grind of a full NHL season. He's used to playing 25-30 games a year, with most of his training coming from practice, not game action. So he's now been optioned to Rockford, Illinois, to play for the IceHogs of the American Hockey League.
While getting six NHL games under your belt at age 19 is no small feat, there will likely be a few recalls and demotions still in Leddy's future, whether for salary cap purposes or as part of the developmental process. The Blackhawks have a pretty set in stone top 4 on D right now, so there's little reason to rush Leddy into action. There's a chance that Leddy will be made available for the U20 World Juniors in Buffalo this December, but he didn't attend the summer camp after signing his professional contract, so it's unsure what his status is with USA Hockey. He has yet to suit up for the USA internationally.
Establishing a career as a NHL defenseman is a marathon, not a sprint. While Leddy has gotten off to a quick start, his first NHL goal won't be nearly as important for his career as the ones he'll be trying to score for Rockford in the near future.