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Nick Leddy on facing the Blackhawks: ‘It’ll be very weird’

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy got to see Brandon Saad, Bryan Bickell and Ben Smith on Friday night.

He also got to hear Andrew Shaw.

“He already was giving me some crap yesterday,” Leddy said before Saturday’s game against his old Blackhawks teammates. “I’m sure me and him will be going back and forth [on the ice].”

Leddy was traded to New York just before the season started to clear salary-cap space, and he’s flourished with the Islanders. He stepped right into a top-pairing role with the now-injured Johnny Boychuk, and has been on the top power-play unit while also killing penalties — three roles he never was going to get in Chicago with the Hawks’ depth on the blue line.

Meanwhile, the surprising Islanders have spent most of the season at or near the top of the Metropolitan Division standings. Leddy had an assist in the game, making a key save along the blue line to set up the game-tying power-play goal for Kyle Okposo.

“It’s been good,” he said. “I’m playing in circumstances I didn’t really get to in Chicago. I think I’m growing as a player, and that’s always good.”

Islanders coach Jack Capuano said he’s had to “lean” on Leddy, especially as injuries have decimated his team’s defense. He said Leddy’s speed and hockey IQ make him an ideal fit for the high-scoring Islanders. Leddy — who now wears the same No. 2 that Hawks workhorse Duncan Keith wears — has averaged more than 20 minutes per game in New York, four more than he was seeing in Chicago last season. He played 19:28 on Saturday.

“The way that the game has evolved now in the new NHL, he’s a defenseman for us that can get up in the play,” Capuano said. “Chicago has a lot of those guys over there, but for us, he’s one of those guys — especially with the injuries we have now on the back end — who has logged a lot of minutes and has played real well for us in all situations.”

Bickell said the Hawks were looking forward to going up against Leddy, and that facing former teammates is “just part of the business.” He even held out hope that Leddy could return to Chicago one day. But for now, the longtime friends and teammates will be on opposite sides.

“It’ll be very weird,” Leddy said. “But it’ll be very fun, for sure.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus