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Bench time during Cup run has lit Nick Leddy’s fire

Nick Leddy is more aggressive force this seasafter coveted postseasminutes went other players.  | Bill Smith/Getty Images

Nick Leddy is a more aggressive force this season after coveted postseason minutes went to other players.  | Bill Smith/Getty Images

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Saturday

Wild at Blackhawks

The facts: 7 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM.

Updated: November 27, 2013 6:12AM



Nick Leddy’s not the most demonstrative guy in the Blackhawks dressing room. He’s not the type to complain or vent his frustration or, for that matter, to pat himself on the back. Already a veteran, but just 22, he understands there’s a long way to go.

But it’s a humbling thing to spend 56 or 57 minutes of a Stanley Cup Final game on the bench, just watching.

Even more so to do it three times.

‘‘Everybody’s got pride,’’ Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. ‘‘They want to play. They want to do well. They want to contribute in a meaningful way.’’

So while you won’t hear Leddy whine about his near-benching during the last three games of the Hawks’ Stanley Cup run last spring, when he was a minus-8 with two points after being a plus-15 with 18 points in the regular season, you can see the lingering effects in the pace at which he’s playing and in the level at which he’s working at practice. On one of the best and deepest defensive corps in the NHL, Leddy is determined to earn — and keep — his minutes.

‘‘It wasn’t how I wanted it to work out, obviously,’’ Leddy said. ‘‘But I learned from it. I can always keep learning and always keep getting better.’’

He has been a reliable presence through the first 10 games of the season, with three assists and a plus-2 rating. Maybe the fastest player on the team, he has been more aggressive offensively. He honed those offensive instincts in his home state of Minnesota, particularly on the big ice sheets in college hockey.

His hometown Wild — the team that originally drafted him — will get another glimpse at the local boy that got away over the next three days. The Hawks host the Wild on Saturday, then visit St. Paul for a return match Monday. The Wild will see the speed that has defined Leddy’s career, but also a more responsible defender in the wake of his playoff struggles.

‘‘I’m trying to jump in the play and create some more offense than maybe I did in the past,’’ Leddy said. ‘‘My speed definitely helps out, not only with the offense, but the gap coming back as well.’’

After signing a two-year contract over the summer, Leddy has bounced back this fall under unusual circumstances. While Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have been playing together every night for years, and while Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya have formed a dynamic duo since the start of last season, Leddy has had to deal with a revolving door of partners. Last year, Michal Rozsival and Sheldon Brookbank split time as his partner. This year, until his recent injury, Michael Kostka had been thrown into the mix, too.

So the built-up chemistry that the top two pairings have is harder to come by for Leddy.

‘‘If anything, it’s probably harder on them, sitting out and then playing,’’ Leddy said. ‘‘Communicating is huge, especially when you don’t have the same chemistry at first. Obviously, every player plays a little differently and has their own tendencies, but I try to play the same either way. I try to look for things and try to create things, whoever I’m with.’’

With two elite pairings ahead of him, it’s something Leddy will have to get used to. And that shouldn’t be hard for the easy-going defenseman, never one to stress about his situation. He has moved on from the disappointment of having to watch the Final from the bench, and he’s not letting his mind wander to the Olympics, where he has an outside shot at a U.S. roster spot.

‘‘The focus is on the Hawks and on this season right now,’’ Leddy said. ‘‘It’s about getting better and improving and doing my best to help the team win games.’’

NOTE:

The Blackhawks recalled forward Jeremy Morin from Rockford. They also agreed to terms with forward Brad Mills on a one-year contract and recalled him from the IceHogs.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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