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Thursday, January 6, 2011
Could be Leddy's turn to help defense

By Jesse Rogers

Could the Chicago Blackhawks be getting some help on defense?

It appears that way after coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman did not deny that prospect Nick Leddy could be on his way back to the Hawks in time for Friday’s game against Ottawa. To make the room, they sent Jassen Cullimore to the minors.
Nick Leddy
Nick Leddy, a first-round pick by the Minnesota Wild in 2009, played in six games earlier this season for the Blackhawks.
Leddy just finished a stint at the World Junior Championships and appears ready to make a serious contribution to the Hawks in the second half. Leddy played six games for them earlier this season before being sent to the minors for some seasoning. He was a mid-year pick up last season after being a first-round selection of the Minnesota Wild in 2009.

This wasn’t a snap decision.

“There is nothing wrong with a player playing in the AHL,” Bowman said on Nov. 27. “I’m not saying [Leddy is] going to be there all year. They could come up at any point. I also think it’s very rare when you say a guy has been in the AHL too long.

"Niklas Hjalmarsson played in Rockford for a season and a half, and he came in and we made the comment, ‘Wow, this guy could have been here all year,’ but it didn’t happen until basically after the trading deadline. For them it’s a combination of getting confidence, also getting the amount of minutes, and by doing that, over a certain period of time, whether it’s a couple of months or six months, it’s only going to help them.”

Whether the Hawks moved up Leddy’s timetable remains to be seen, but they’ve been true to the basics of the plan.

Leddy comes just in time. The Hawks could use some help on the back end, and while Cullimore filled a role, Leddy’s upside has potential to be a bigger factor. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him killing penalties very soon.

After Wednesday’s putrid showing -- three Dallas goals on three attempts-- could the Hawks do worse?

“When you become exploited you become a little hesitant and you become in between, and you can’t be in between,” television analyst Eddie Olczyk said Thursday during ESPN 1000's "Lunch With a Legend" broadcast honoring him and Pat Foley.

The Hawks have dropped to 28th in the NHL on the penalty kill.

“At the end of the day everyone has to understand there is a time to put pressure and a time to be passive,” Olczyk said. “You can’t be uptight.

In other words, they’re pressing, and they’re not on the same page. The only teams worse at killing penalties are the lowly Oilers and Maple Leafs.

No one sounds more frustrated than Duncan Keith. His dream season of a year ago seems like a distant memory.

“If I had all the answers we’d probably be a lot better, so I don’t know,” he said Wednesday. “We always talk about the same things, nothing has changed. It’s a matter of blocking shots and limiting their chance, their shots from the blue line, boxing out, and getting in stick lanes. All those little things that we talk about, and it just seems like they show up in games.”

The Hawks have done an extremely poor job getting into shooting lanes lately, and that has caused a mess in front of Corey Crawford and Marty Turco. Blocked shots up near the point turn into redirected goals when the “blocks” occur closer to the net. The key is getting to that shooter before havoc rains down in the slot. The Hawks have been caught out of position one too many times.

The addition of Leddy might be a start to helping the defense. As his minutes increase, others should come down. Despite his youth, he undoubtedly becomes, at the very least, their fifth-best defensemen.

Cullimore was the odd man out due to his contract. He’s the only D-man on a two-way deal, so despite some steady play, he finds his way back to the minors.

The Hawks’ hopes turn to a 19-year-old. It's Leddy's turn to help a struggling defense, and fast.