Nick Leddy, from Eden Prairie, Minn., was drafted ninth overall by Minnesota in 2009. (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images)
It’s always interesting to find out who prospects pick as their NHL role models. Nick Lidstrom still comes up, while Jonathan Toews is often the first forward mentioned. But it’s another Blackhawk getting a surprising amount of support lately and that’s Nick Leddy.
Despite just 200 games of NHL experience (if you count playoffs), Leddy has fans in Keaton Thompson and Tommy Vannelli. Both Midwestern kids and the Minnesota-born Leddy are alums of the U.S. National Team Development Program – Vannelli joined the NTDP after his high school season with Minnetonka finished.
Even though Leddy saw his ice time slashed dramatically in the Stanley Cup final, there’s no doubting his skating and puck-moving ability from the blueline are well developed. Once he figures out how to use that speed in the defensive zone, look out. Not surprisingly, Thompson knows he needs to rely on his feet to be effective.
“My skating for sure, that’s my strong suit,” he said. “When I’m in a bad spot, that’s what I go to.”
Thompson, who was selected 87th overall by Anaheim in 2013, is headed to the University of North Dakota this fall. The native of Devils Lake couldn’t be happier to land with the program.
“It’s pretty much a dream, growing up watching the Sioux,” Thompson said. “When they finally recruited me I was just like, ‘wow.’ It was a dream come true.”
The new conference alignment will keep Thompson and Vannelli apart until, at best, the Frozen Four, as Vannelli heads to the Big Ten and Minnesota, Leddy’s alma mater. Once he gets to the Gophers, he’ll be expected to play a similar role to Leddy.
“I’m an offensive defenseman,” Vannelli said. “I like to move the puck to my forwards and join the rush. But I’m responsible in my own zone too.”
Praised as an exceptional athlete, Vannelli played for the same Minnetonka high school program as Toronto Maple Leafs standout Jake Gardiner, though the Buds blueliner was a senior by the time Vannelli had a chance to watch him. Getting time with the NTDP was also a boon to Vannelli’s draft stock, as ultimately the St. Louis Blues grabbed him with their first pick this summer, 47th overall.
“It helped me a lot,” he said. “The coaching staff was great and all the other players, we pushed each other every day and that brought my game to another level.”
Perhaps one day, to a level in which youngsters will look up to him.
Before the Quebec League draft, top prospect Nicolas Roy told the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles that he would not report if they drafted him. But the Eagles selected the 6-foot-3 goal scorer first overall anyway and with camp set to open in August, Roy is sticking to his guns about playing for a Quebec-based team in major junior. Recently, the Omaha Lancers picked up the youngster’s rights in the United States League and I’ve been told that’s becoming a very real destination at this point. Education is the main sticking point for Roy’s French-Canadian family (both parents are teachers) and though Omaha is even more English-speaking than Cape Breton, at least the USHL would keep an NCAA career open.
Roy is represented by agent Pat Brisson, who also handles top 2013 NHL pick Nathan MacKinnon. The newest member of the Colorado Avalanche is getting a jump-start on team chemistry by working out in Halifax with Matt Duchene and training guru Andy O’Brien. Duchene credited his huge 2013 season in part to the work he did with O’Brien last summer. Another Brisson-O’Brien client named Sidney Crosby might get involved, too…