As a freshman at Eden Prairie (Minn.), Nick Leddy stood only 5-foot-3 and weighed a mere 115 pounds. Though always a polished skater, he was too small to make the high school hockey team.
Four years later, however, he has gone through an incredible transformation. As a 5-11 ½, 180-pound senior defenseman he produced these amazing accomplishments:
* He was the first high school player taken in the National Hockey League draft (No. 16 by the hometown Minnesota Wild).
* He earned Minnesota’s most prestigious award, Mr. Hockey.
* He captained Eden Prairie to its first-ever Class 2A state title before a crowd of 15,000 at the Xcel Energy Center.
“He set a school record for a defenseman with 87 career points.
That’s why it’s kind of shocking to hear Leddy confess that as a youngster, “I actually was afraid of the ice. I grabbed my dad’s leg and pulled him out there with me.”
His father, Mike Leddy, recalled, “When he was three it didn’t work out. At age four we took him to the community center for skating lessons. The only way he would go out there with the instructor would be to grab my leg with a death grip. I was more of a safety net and over time he felt comfortable (on his own).
“He was kind of a freak when it came to skating. We gave him extra time, giving him lessons twice a week instead of once. She (the instructor) saw that he needed to be challenged.
“When he was 10 he was skating with high school kids. One of his teachers, Jodi Karn, said, ‘See that kid out there. You’re going to be watching him on TV some day.’ Even when he was just 5-3 and 115 pounds he was fearless. Once he went up against a 6-3 player and Nick came out of the corner with the puck.”
Leddy began playing organized hockey at age seven. “It came more natural to me because my dad and whole family were into hockey,” he noted.
“He was always the littlest guy out there,” according to his mother, Vicki Leddy. “Because he could skate he always played up (with older kids). I do remember a few times he thought he was big enough to do his own checking, but he was the one who bounced off,” she laughed.
Still, he left his mark at an early age when he scored the winning goal in double overtime during the nation’s largest squirt tournament (ages 8-9) in Fargo, N.D. He also won a pair of new skates as champion in a skills contest, which drew several hundred entries.
Meanwhile, the family’s backyard pond became the neighborhood’s favorite rink when it was frozen over and their basement never was able to be finished because Nick and younger brother Tyler put up nets and fired thousands of pucks every year.
When he was younger, Leddy would shoot 5,000 pucks per summer. In later years, he raised the level to 10,000 per summer.
Over the years, this dedication has produced a couple of broken windows, a large hole in the wall and many broken light bulbs. It also has cost Nick many, many hours which could have been spent with friends.
Until eighth grade, Leddy also was playing football (running back/defensive end) and baseball (center field). He was a talented all-around athlete, but elected to concentrate fully on hockey.
About this time in his life, Leddy recalled, “Everybody started hitting puberty and I didn’t. I was shorter and not as strong as everybody else. I had to be smarter than the other guys and out-smart them. I guess in a way I was pretty mad or disappointed that I couldn’t play with these guys. They were so much bigger than me. But my dad always told me, ‘Don’t worry. Just focus on your game.’ ’’
Mike, a former high school player, also preached, “Nobody can take skill from you. Skate into a guy’s hands and you can remove him from the puck.”
Mike Leddy is 6-feet tall and his wife is 5-8, so there was hope for young Nick.
After being forced to play bantam hockey as a freshman, Leddy began to grow somewhat and made the Eden Prairie varsity as a sophomore.
Coach Lee Smith told MaxPreps, “He was special all the way through the system. He had incredible skills. He learned to use his skating ability to hold off guys. The big thing was we hoped he would hit a growth spurt.”
As a sophomore Leddy started part-time, finishing with two goals and 12 assists as the Eagles posted an 18-8-2 record.
That summer he made the USA under-17 team which played in the Czech Republic. The Americans defeated the hosts, 5-1, in their first meeting, but later lost to them in the title game, 7-1. Showing his constant “team-first” attitude, Leddy said, “I don’t know what happened. It was pretty devastating.”
That fall Leddy committed to the hometown University of Minnesota. Leddy called it “a huge deal, because I didn’t have to focus that much on college. I could relax and not worry. Growing up in Minnesota, you always want to be a Gopher.”
Steadily improving as a junior, Leddy stepped up his production to six goals and 22 assists and again made the USA team. The Eagles finished with an 18-7-2 record.
“Guys took a lot of runs at him because of his size,” coach Smith conceded. “It was a motivator to protect himself and get stronger – become more of an attack player.”
The summer before Leddy’s senior year was pivotal in his career, because he “put on 15 pounds of muscle mass,” Smith noted. “He was able to maintain unbelievable puck control. It was a fun transition for him. It was really fun to see guys bounce off him (as a senior).
“He learned his limits from playing in Europe with the Junior team. He has a nice combination of speed and power and does everything gracefully. He was able to take chances, but never put us in a bad spot. He had the green light to move the puck. It was fun to watch someone with that ability who was so unselfish.”
Leddy had a superstar senior season, to say the least. He scored 12 goals, had 33 assists and finished as the Eagles’ career scoring leader. The payoff was a sparkling 28-3 record and the school’s first Class 2A state title with a 3-0 victory over Cinderella Moorhead. Coach Smith also was rewarded with his 300th career victory.
Leddy says simply, “Every game we won was a good game for me because the team comes first. We had such good chemistry.”
The day after the championship, Leddy was named Mr. Hockey, prompting him to admit, “That was the best 24 hours of my life. I was probably higher than a cloud.”
All this was accomplished out of loyalty – because Leddy passed on opportunities to play for the USA development team in Ann Arbor, Mich., or to join a team in the United States Hockey League.
“He chose a path of staying with his teammates,” Smith said proudly. “All the (NHL) general managers and scouts I talked with asked if there was anything holding him back (from moving up). He liked Eden Prairie and wanted to be part of something special. He didn’t walk away and play at the highest level. He always was the first one on the ice. He is a blue collar kid in a white collar community.
“The thing that stands out is his smile. Nick is out there because he absolutely is having fun. No aspect of hockey seems like a job to him. He gave up things that his buddies did to be a great player.”
Leddy, who had a 3.0 GPA at Eden Prairie, already is taking two courses this summer at UM.
He calls his father his No. 1 idol, but also hopes to emulate former NHL star Phil Housley, who coached him for a couple years.
Minnesota coach Don Lucia told MaxPreps that Leddy’s performance in Europe before his junior year “sold us on the fact that he’s going to be a very good hockey player. The thing that separates Nick is his outstanding skating ability. Kids grow at different times and now he’s becoming a man.
“I think he’ll play a great deal (as a freshman). We don’t really have starters in hockey. We have six players who are defensemen. He can get the puck out on his own and join the rush. He has a chance to be a real good player in the pros.”
Tommy Thompson, who is assistant general manager of the Wild, also started watching Leddy when he was with the USA team in Europe. At first look he called him “a good little player who has got some hockey sense.”
But then the first week of December during Leddy’s senior year, Thompson exclaimed, “Oh, my goodness! He looks different to me. The boy is starting to become a man and I get excited. The difference in his game was physical strength. He increased his power another degree as a hockey player.
“It looks like he has the potential to generate offense. He can make use of other players on the team – not just try to wind up and beat guys one on one. He has a great passion to play. There were 10 sophomores on the state championship team and he showed great leadership.”
Just before the draft, Leddy was examined by Wild doctors, who projected him to eventually reach 6-1 and 200 pounds. In the future, he’s the one who’s going to hand out the punishment.
Smith predicts a great future at each level for his former star. He says Leddy’s “forte will be the offensive side. His skating and understanding of the game will let him play in every situation. I expect him to be an impact player (in college). I think after two years they (the Wild) will bring him in and get him into their system.”
Leddy has big dreams but he admits, “I definitely need some years in college to mature as a player and get stronger. My goals are to win a national championship and try to be one of the top guys. Hopefully, I can get there (the Wild) as soon as possible.”