Minnesota milestone: Blues’ Nick Leddy comes full circle, set to play 1,000th game in home state

A few months ago, a family friend of Nick Leddy’s noticed the possibility of the Minnesota native playing his 1,000th NHL game just 25 minutes from his hometown of Eden Prairie, Minn.

If the St. Louis Blues defenseman played in every game from that point on, March 23 against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center would be the milestone day.

Not that Leddy was planning that far ahead.

“Yeah, there’s no way with Nick’s personality that he was looking at the schedule and doing the math,” says New York Islanders defenseman Mike Reilly, a longtime friend who grew up five minutes away from Leddy.

Mike Leddy, Nick’s dad, had no idea either, until it was pointed out to him.

“I knew he was getting close, so I periodically glanced at it,” Mike says. “When I verified it, I was like, ‘Wow, it’s accurate.’”

Minnesota isn’t just where Leddy’s from. It’s where he won the Class AA state championship. It’s where he played collegiately, at the University of Minnesota. It’s where he was drafted into the NHL by the Minnesota Wild.

Though he’ll be a member of the visiting Blues for the 1 p.m. Saturday game, having it at Xcel is meaningful to him.

“I was told if I played in every game, it would be in Minnesota,” he says. “I was like, ‘That would be wild if it worked out that way.’ The odds — I couldn’t tell you the odds. I was talking to my mom and dad about it the other day and said, ‘What are the actual odds that it worked out to be in my hometown?’

“It means a lot. I’ve had so many great memories in that building: a state tournament to (an NHL) playoff series. It’s definitely going to be a special moment. Yeah, it’s crazy how it happened.”

Leddy will become the 395th player and 127th defenseman to reach 1,000 NHL games. And after turning 33 on Wednesday, he will become just the 105th player to reach the mark before his 34th birthday.

In honor of one of the league’s best skaters, let’s take a twirl through the past to see what brought him to this moment.

When building a house in Eden Prairie years ago, Leddy’s parents, Mike and Vicki, purposely bought a lot with a pond.

“It was the quintessential Minnesota backyard rink,” Mike says.

It’s where Leddy, not long after cutting his teeth, learned how to cut on his edges. That work transferred to the rink, where Dad had him take each class of cross-overs and circles three times. Eventually, the instructor had to alter the course to challenge him.

“When he was a kid, it didn’t even look like he was trying out there,” Mike says. “He was trying out for Team Minnesota one year. I went in to watch and this lady said, ‘You’ve got to watch this kid skate.’ She pointed at Nick, and I said, ‘Yeah, good skater.’ I didn’t acknowledge him being my son. He was truly a gifted skater early on, but he worked at it.”

Two years younger, Reilly, who’s now played nearly 400 NHL games in a nine-year career, took note.

“He was probably the hardest worker I’ve ever seen growing up,” Reilly says. “Whether it was going over to the outdoor ice or roller-blading on my parents’ sportcourt, he always had the work ethic. It was cool for me to look up to from an early age, almost trying to follow in his footsteps.”

Neil Sheehy, a former NHL player and Leddy’s agent, remembers seeing him skate for the first time in high school.

“He was just effortless,” Sheehy says. “The best skater I’d ever seen was Paul Coffey. I played against him. Right away, when I saw Nick, I’m like, ‘He’s like Paul Coffey.’ Coffey was phenomenal every which way, but I just didn’t see D skate like that.”

Whenever Leddy received a compliment like that, he had a sincere, yet stock answer.

“We’d talk in the car about humility,” Dad says. “I said, ‘If somebody says something nice, say ‘Thank you!’ and go on about your business.”

That humility would serve Leddy well as he went on to win the state title in 2009, when he was named Mr. Hockey in Minnesota. From there, he turned down a chance to play for the U.S. National Team Development Program and junior hockey, opting to stay in-state. He was drafted by the hometown Wild (No. 16 overall) that year and figured to join them when he left the Golden Gophers, for whom he was rookie of the year in 2009-10 despite missing nine games with a broken jaw.

But Leddy wouldn’t suit up for a single game with the Wild. In fact, he never even signed with them.

In a shocking trade in February 2010, the contract rights for the 18-year-old Leddy were dealt along with defenseman Kim Johnsson to the Chicago Blackhawks for defenseman Cam Barker. Barker was the No. 3 pick in 2004, behind Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin.

“(Chicago general manager) Stan Bowman called and said, ‘Listen, my dad (Scotty) has been watching Nick, and he’s saying that we have to have him right now,’” Sheehy remembers. “So I shared that with the Leddys, and my only comment to them was, ‘If Scotty Bowman is saying he wants you, you go.’”

Leddy joined a franchise that would win a Stanley Cup later that year, a roster that included Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, a defenseman he had idolized growing up.

“I always joke about it, but I didn’t really talk much the first few years because I was just trying to get the lay of the land, looking up to most of those guys,” Leddy says. “Obviously, a lot of pressure coming in as a 19-year-old.”

Looking back, Kane believes Leddy handled it well.

“He did a great job coming in,” Kane says. “Ledds was almost like a younger brother. I spent numerous nights hanging out with him. Great kid. One of the nicest you’ll meet.

“That was a big pickup for us. It was fun to see guys try to chase him behind the net because he’d leave them in the dust with a couple strides. When you got out there with him, you knew something could happen.”

With a hard-nosed, veteran coach in Joel Quenneville, though, Leddy took his lumps defensively and heard about it.

“Nick responds well to that,” says Brandon Saad, who played with the Blackhawks at the time. “He definitely has that push-back in him, and that helped make him into the player that he is today.”

“I always like people being hard on me,” Leddy says. “I try and elevate to be better and just prove to them that I can do it.”

“He needed to improve his defensive part of the game and use his skills to take advantage of closing and killing plays,” Quenneville remembers. “(But) Nick has a great set of assets. I just liked how he skates — maybe as smooth a skater as there is in the game.”

Two years later, still only 21, Leddy shaped into a solid defenseman and won his own Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks. He played all 23 games in the 2013 playoffs, averaging 14:21 of ice time per game.

By then, Barker had been long gone from Minnesota, signing free-agent contracts with the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks before wrapping up his career in the AHL in 2012.

“I ran into some scouts in Minnesota one time and asked them about the trade,” Mike Leddy recalls. “They told me the Wild were looking for an NHL-ready defenseman, so they wanted Barker. Chicago got the better of the deal. I’ll just say that.”

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Nick Leddy won a Stanley Cup at age 21 in 2013. (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

Leddy spent one more season in Chicago then was dealt to the New York Islanders to get the Blackhawks salary-cap compliant.

He was paired with Johnny Boychuk for much of the next six years, and in 518 games with the Islanders, he had 45 games and 243 points.

“We just complemented each other really well,” Boychuk says. “I wasn’t a good skater, and Nick was. The plan was to get the puck to Nick so that he could skate it. When Nick was with us, he was more of an offensive guy than he is now.”

Coming from Chicago, he also helped change the culture in New York, according to then-teammate Matt Martin.

“He was loved in this locker room,” Martin says. “He’s one of those ‘yes’ guys who wanted to do whatever.”

“I’d be like, ‘Hey, you want to grab some sushi?’ and he’d be like, ‘Yeah, I’m in,’” Islanders winger Brock Nelson says. “I could call him right now and be like, ‘Hey, you want to grab a steak?’ and he’d be like, ‘Yeah, for sure! I’ll do that.’”

“One group of guys would ask, ‘Ledds, do you want to go to dinner?’” Reilly says. “He’d say yes. Then another group would ask, ‘Do you want to go to dinner?’ and he’d say yes. Then he’d realize he said yes to both groups. It was just funny, his laidback personality, and it’s never about him.”

Leddy’s care-free attitude got a test when Lou Lamoriello came in as the Islanders’ general manager in 2018 and mandated the players shave their facial hair. That meant the defenseman’s thick black beard.

“He uses the beard to hide those teeth,” Martin jokes.

“Well, some of us are unfortunate enough to take pucks to the mouth, so that’s probably why,” Leddy says, laughing. “Yeah, I was shaving pretty much every other day when Lou came in.”

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Nick Leddy was forced to shave his beard when GM Lou Lamoreillo became the Islanders GM in 2018. (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

In each of Leddy’s final two seasons with the Islanders, 2019-20 and 2020-21, they made the conference final.

“Honestly, I didn’t do very much,” Leddy says. “Johnny and I, being traded there on the same day, maybe we added a little stability. But having (Martin say that he changed the culture) means a lot coming from him, That’s a high compliment from a guy who has battled his entire career. For him to say that, that’s very special.”

From there, Leddy was traded to Detroit in 2021, joining a rebuilding Red Wings team, with general manager Steve Yzerman wanting him to mentor his younger players.

“When Steve brought Nick in, he brought in a real pro,” said former Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill, who is now an assistant with the Tampa Bay Lightning. “That’s what Nick really brought to our organization at a critical time. We needed, as we continued in the rebuild, our young players, specifically the young defensemen, to be around real good pros.

“Nick came to work every day, and he did a good job of staying positive through that adversity. … The impact he had is starting to have fruition now with the success that they’re starting to have.”

In 2022, Leddy was traded for the fourth time in his career to St. Louis for Oskar Sundqvist, defenseman Jake Walman and a second-round pick. He signed a four-year, $16 million contract extension and has become a solid partner with Colton Parayko in the top pair.

“I went to watch him play against Edmonton a year or two ago, and he gets thrown into shutting down Connor McDavid because he’s one of the only guys that can actually keep up with him,” Boychuk says. “He shut him down that day, too. It’s remarkable that he has evolved his game into more of a defensive role.”

When you play 1,000 games in the NHL, you have to evolve.

“Time flies,” Saad says. “It’s pretty awesome that I got to start my career with him and then see him come to fruition here with hitting 1,000 games.”

Few, especially going back to Leddy’s days in Chicago, could comprehend that he was approaching the milestone.

“It’s pretty crazy,” says Kane, now with Detroit. “It’s kind of funny — I felt like a big brother to him, and now when we play St. Louis, (Moritz) Seider and (Lucas) Raymond talk to him after the game, and he’s like a big brother to them.”

“It’s amazing how quickly it seems he’s played 1,000 games,” Quenneville says. “Good teammate. Well liked. Congrats!”

It’s even more amazing that the game will be played in Minnesota.

“That caps it off pretty perfect for him,” Nelson says. “For myself, growing up in Minnesota, you dream about playing the state tourney at the Xcel. Ledds was one of the best to do it in Minnesota. Mr. Hockey, won the state tournament, goes off to play at the University of Minnesota, drafted by Minnesota. It was storybook until the trade (to Chicago). But to come full circle and play No. 1,000 in Minnesota, that’s going to be awesome.”

Leddy will have dozens, if not hundreds, of friends and family in attendance.

“I’m extremely proud of him,” Mike Leddy says. “It’s humbling because he just handles himself so well and with class and humility. He is a consummate teammate. He values the team. Every place he’s been, he says he just loves the guys.

“He’s understated, but he’s extremely proud of the achievement, for sure, and to make it this far. I told him I’m going to keep his silver stick (for his 1,000th game) at my house. He can come visit it anytime he wants.”

(Top photos: Michael Chisholm and Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

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