Nick Leddy figures to be just fine defending the future stars of the NHL. After all, he's already done his job stopping the current stars, so why should a parade of 18-year-old hopefuls bother him?
The Team USA defenseman is one of the few players in the world junior tournament with experience at an even higher level. Leddy began this season with the Chicago Blackhawks, playing six games against world-class skaters such as Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, Columbus' Rick Nash and Nashville's Shea Weber. He scored once, too, beating Buffalo goaltender and defending Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller in HSBC Arena.
The players he'll face at that rink during the junior tournament can only dream of such events.
"It was an unbelievable experience," Leddy said this week. "It was definitely a little nerve-wracking going up against guys you've watched on TV the past couple years. You're like, 'What am I doing here?'
"But you've got to get over that and settle down. Your adrenaline starts pumping, and you get over it pretty quickly."
Leddy's ability to maintain a sense of calm impressed Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and his organization, which moved to sign him quicker than anticipated. Leddy was set to return to the University of Minnesota for his sophomore season, but the 19-year-old signed with Chicago in late July after a stellar showing at their development camp.
"I like his feel for the game," Quenneville said. "He defends the rush well. He defends down in his own end with his anticipation. You like his instincts. You like his quickness and mobility. You like his puck possession and movement. You really like his feel, and that kind of goes hand-in-hand with the word 'poise.' "
If anyone thinks Quenneville's compliments about Leddy's defensive skills are impressive, get a load of Scotty Bowman's take on Leddy's offensive talent. The Hall of Fame coach, who's a senior adviser for the Blackhawks, watched the Minnesota native and quickly thought back to his days leading the Sabres. He recalled another young Minnesotan, Phil Housley.
"He came right out of high school and went to the NHL and scored 31 goals as a defenseman," Bowman said. "I put Leddy in the same class as Housley -- his skating, his head, his heart. It's these kinds of players who can come in and surprise."
Housley, who is second among American-born players in NHL points with 1,232, is an assistant coach for Team USA. Leddy, who has a similar build at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, watches his former youth coach and marvels at the comparison.
"It's a great compliment by Scotty, especially from Scotty Bowman, who has won a bunch of Stanley Cups," Leddy said. "We're both puck-moving defensemen, but he was a real good offensive defenseman in the NHL. What is he, second in points for Americans, so that's be hard to beat. I guess we'll see. I can try."
Leddy has a more immediate goal, of course. He wants to help the Americans repeat in the tournament and, in the process, get his first gold medal. He didn't make the cut at last year's tryout and is eager to experience the ride with this year's team.
He's getting his chance with the blessing of the Blackhawks. They loaned Leddy and forward Jeremy Morin to USA Hockey for the tournament, a move mimicked by the Toronto Maple Leafs with forward Jerry D'Amigo and the Anaheim Ducks with front-man Kyle Palmieri.
The quartet has combined for 25 games in the NHL and an additional 90 in the American Hockey League, professional experience that should help during junior hockey's marquee event.
"As a team," Leddy said, "I think we'll do fine."