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And So It Begins – ’13-’14 Hawks Preview: Players A-Leaping

Hello my pretties. I’m back from a brief hiatus, and I’ve returned to bathe in a stream of contract extensions! Oh the paper cuts! Anyway, it’s time to keep rolling with our preview of the upcoming season (can it really be less than a month?) So let’s not waste any more time, yes? Yes. Indeed. How so. Indubitably.

If, as Hawks fans, you could pick one player to make the leap to becoming a better player, whose leap would be most beneficial to the team? -Why?

The answer to me, as it has been for the past few years, is Nick Leddy. While Leddy certainly made a huge jump last year from his first full year in the NHL, the Hawks still need and can get more from him, especially in the spring time.

In the middle of last season-in-a-can, Leddy had fully earned his promotion to the second pairing, as much as Brent Seabrook earned his demotion to it. But that didn’t last when the calendar hit April, and for a few playoff games, and most of the Final, Leddy was relegated to basically a glorified spectator.

The big thing The Agape One provides is he’s still the only power play quarterback on the roster. No matter how much they want to think Keith is, he just isn’t. Leds has far better vision and passing ability from out of his zone. It’s really only second to Seabrook. Now, the power play system may be so fercockt that no one can save it. But Leddy is about the only one with a chance, especially as he’s really adept at getting his shot through traffic.

But more than that, as Oduya gets older and more expendable, Leddy is going to have to cement himself on the second pairing all year this time. Obviously, there is incentive. There’s a longshot Olympic bid acting as the dangling carrot, and of course he’s on a “bridge” contract. So if he wants to be showering trixies with singles and champagne at Rockit in a couple years, he’s going to have to earn it.

Last year, we saw Leddy more willing to skate into and out of traffic with the puck. That opens up the whole ice for him, and we were treated to those breathtaking end-to-end rushes. Leddy also was a little stronger than in the past, and that process needs to continue. Because at times Leddy is going to have to fight his way out of jams, not just with speed.

He also has to play the defense to be trusted on the second pairing, which he’s shown capable of, though not all the time. His gaps were much better last year but can still improve. If he does all these things, it gives the Hawks genuine weapons on their top two pairings (as well as perhaps the best third pairing in the league) and the ability to strike from anywhere anytime. Few teams can boast that.

Runner up: Marcus Kruger – He’s going to get a chance to be the full-time checking center (if Q holds true to his hints that he might move Shaw to wing, where he pretty much belongs), which is what we’ve mostly thought he was designed for. It’s one thing to be solid, and it’s another to be an actual plus. Kruger was a plus on the kill for sure, and will still be first call on that. But now he’s got to be a little more effective at even-strength. He’s going to have to show a little more ass and snarl to be a true checking center, and also his nose around the net should see him pot 15+goals — which he hasn’t threatened yet. With Bolland and Stalberg gone and Bickell likely to be on the top six, Kruger is going to have to help Shaw and the kids with secondary scoring. He’s got the capability, but if he doesn’t the Hawks begin to look a little top heavy.

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