On Saturday, Nick Leddy plays his first game against his former team — which just might be his team again before the end of the season.
The Detroit Red Wings carry a four-game winning streak into their contest against the New York Islanders, whose winless skid hit nine when they returned to play Thursday after pausing to deal with multiple players in COVID-19 protocol.
The Wings won’t have top-line forward Tyler Bertuzzi on Saturday because he’s in pandemic protocol. But defenseman Danny DeKeyser emerged from the protocol Friday to take part in practice at Little Caesars Arena, and Joe Veleno is also available after a three-game absence caused by an upper-body injury.
Leddy plays around 22 minutes a game, including around 1:40 on power plays. He has seven assists in 24 games and has served as a veteran partner for 20-year-old Moritz Seider and 24-year-old Filip Hronek.
“Nick has done a good job for us,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s got a really good veteran presence to him. He’s really good with our younger players, or even our middle-aged players, so to speak. He’s just got a good way about him. He’s calm. He helps talk through situations with his partner.
“He’s brought that, and then he’s a dynamic skater. We’re in a spot where we need him to be on top of his game every single night, and he’s getting there.”
Leddy joined the Wings in July after seven seasons with the Islanders. New York faced a roster dilemma because of the Seattle expansion drafte, and Wings general manager Steve Yzerman took advantage. Getting Leddy cost only a 2021 second-round pick, and veteran forward Richard Pánik. (Pánik was a throw-in from the Anthony Mantha trade, and the draft pick originally was Edmonton’s, acquired as part of the 2020 Andreas Athanasiou trade.)
In return, the Wings bolstered their defense, adding a veteran who — along with DeKeyser and Marc Staal — is helping develop Seider, Hronek and Gustav Lindstrom.
“It’s hard to be a young defenseman in this league,” Blashill said. “The league has gotten younger, certainly, over the last number of years, but the guys who have really been able to make an impact early and helped teams win are forwards. You have some guys like Seider who can help you, but it’s hard to be a young defenseman. There’s a ton of learning that goes along with it.
“That learning is facilitated by veterans like Staal, DeKeyser and Leddy. Those guys are critical extensions of a coaching staff and have way more impact than any coach would have when they’re kind of talking through situations and reinforcing some of the thoughts and beliefs that we have as a coaching staff. I think their presence has been huge in the development of our younger defensemen down that right side.”
GOOD MOVE: Nick Leddy trade looked like a winner from the get-go
Leddy may not finish the season in Wings uniform. He’s an attractive age (31 in March), and in the last year of his contract. He had at least 30 assists over three straight seasons from 2015-2018, and had 29 as recently as last season. That’s a combination bound to appeal to Stanley Cup contenders at the trade deadline. The Islanders came into the season as such, but they were on the road for the first 13 games while their new arena was being finished. After a 5-6-2 start, their lineup was decimated by the coronavirus.
Getting back a guy who was a key part of consecutive third-round playoff appearances could appeal to the Islanders as they try to right themselves. If the Wings keep winning enough to be in the playoff picture on March 21, things will be different, of course, but there’s certainly potential for Yzerman to get even more in return for Leddy than what he paid for him.
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.