Islanders: The Quiet Resurgence of Defenseman Nick Leddy

Nick Leddy #2 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Nick Leddy #2 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Two seasons ago Nick Leddy became the first NHL player since Rico Fata in 2003-04 with a +/- of -40 or worse. But in two seasons under Barry Trotz, the Islanders defenseman has shown an incremental return to form, the importance of which cannot be understated.

With context, it’s easy to see where Nick Leddy’s recent usage decline came from. The 2017-18 season was a historically bad defensive year for the New York Islanders and Leddy. The 2018-19 season saw the Islanders’ defensive depth chart get deeper, and more effective with the implementation of Barry Trotz’s defense-first system.

Leddy spent much of 2018-19 adjusting to the Islanders’ new Trotz-ian style of play. The system’s effects were immediately apparent on the Eden Prairie, Minnesota native, as he saw an incredible +42 differential between 2017-18 and 2018-19 plus-minus ratings, finishing with a flat 0 in 2018-19.

But while his work on the back-end improved last season, 2018-19 was also Leddy’s first sub-30 point season since his trade from the Chicago Blackhawks. Compile this with his lowest time-on-ice since 2014-15, and it was clear Leddy was still learning and adapting as the season came to a close.

In April 2019, when asked by Newsday’s Colin Stephenson about the change in his play, Leddy replied “I think I really tried to focus, good defense, and whatever I could on the defensive side to help the team win.’’

Fortunately for the Islanders, it appears Leddy’s offensive numbers are returning to form. His 17 points through 35 games are only nine off his ’18-’19 total of 26. According to Hockey Reference, his Adjusted Goals Created have already shown an increase from eight last season to eleven in this campaign. Leddy’s offensive point shares have risen too, from .9 a year ago to 1.1 presently.

Of course, the fancy stats aren’t perfect. Leddy, like the other Islanders defensemen, has a sub-50 Corsi and Fenwick For Percentage, indicative of a defense corps that has struggled at times to regain puck control in their own zone and create clean defensive zone exits.

But the overarching results of Leddy’s play this season have been positive. He just seems more comfortable jumping into the play, using his elite-level skating ability to gain zone entries at 5v5. And as for that pesky plus-minus stat? Leddy’s a +3 this season, continuing his growth under Barry Trotz late into his twenties. Something other players have struggled to do at his age.

With the Islanders’ undeniable offensive deficiencies, contributions from every player matter game in and game out. Coinciding with this, of course, is the long-term injury of stalwart defenseman, Adam Pelech, whom the Islanders won’t be able to dress until at least this season’s second round, should they make it there.

With Pelech’s injury, Leddy has seen an increase in usage and a new partner in Ryan Pulock. He’s played 21:58, 23:34, 23:57, 25:58, and 26:29 with ten shots on goal and at least one block or hit thrown in each of the team’s previous five games. That total of 26:29 against Boston is a season-high for any Islanders defenseman.

All things considered, Islander fans’ early-season desire to see Leddy used as trade bait has fizzled, for good reason. With Pelech’s injury and Leddy’s consequential resurgence, it certainly adds a new wrinkle to the Islanders’ defensive surplus story.

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But for the time being Nick Leddy is munching minutes, playing responsible defense, and finding his opportunities to jump into the rush. He’s quietly building another strong season in blue and orange, and he’s reiterated his importance to this team going forward.