Hockey is a fast game. It can be even faster when your team has the puck. Pittsburgh's performance in this year's Eastern Conference Finals and the first few games of this year's Stanley Cup Finals is a good example of that. However, that requires not only having systems that lead to and maintain puck possession, but it also requires players who are good, quick skaters. I suspect more and more teams will emphasize that given how successful it was for Pittsburgh this season. Today's subject for this prospect profile would certainly meet it: Michael McLeod.
Who is Michael McLeod?
According to Elite Prospects, Michael McLeod was born on February 3, 1998 and he's listed at 6'2" and 185 pounds. He played center for the Mississauga Steelheads in the Ontario Hockey League and just completed his second season with them. He also made appearances for Canada at U-18 level at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and the World U-18 Championships. Here are his stats from Elite Prospects:
A little deeper dive into his numbers at the OHL's website shows that McLeod finished 39th in points in the league and second on his team to rookie and fellow first round projected prospect, Alexander Nylander. Nylander scored an additional seven goals and put up an additional seven assists while registering only seven more shots on net. That's what I call a coincidence. That aside, McLeod put up 171 shots on net for an average of three shots per game in the regular season. McLeod made a little more noise in seven playoff games with Mississauga with three goals, six assists, and 23 shots on net. Those are some fairly respectable numbers on a Steelheads squad that finished around the middle of the league in goals scored. At the World U-18s, McLeod wasn't so productive with only two goals, two assists, and twelve shots on net in seven games. After viewing some of the game recaps at the IIHF site, McLeod did often play on a third line for Canada. That limited his minutes and opportunities to be productive in the short tournament. Nevertheless, he shot the puck quite a bit and found his way on the scoresheet frequently in his draft eligible year. It's justifies the notion that he'll go in the first round.
Where is Michael McLeod Ranked?
That notion is roughly around where the Devils are picking. According to Elite Prospects' Draft Center, McLeod is ranked by the following services. I added The Draft Analyst's rankings from his April Top 250.
|NHL CSS||HockeyProspect.com||ISS||Future Considerations||McKeen's||Kournianos|
|13 – NA||11||13||11||3||10|
It's very clear someone at McKeen's absolutely loves McLeod's game. The remainder of the services here have him as someone available just outside of the top ten. Central Scouting Services rates him the lowest. Thirteenth among North American skaters in this draft where three European-based skaters will be picked before any North American skaters means he's essentially around 16th overall. Kournianos did do a mock draft in May and had McLeod going tenth as per his rankings.
What Others Say About Michael McLeod
Let's start with his profile at Elite Prospects. Curtis Joe has the following short summary about the center:
Michael McLeod is a highly skilled power center that relies on nobody but himself to get the job done. His size and skating make him difficult to contain, and his competitiveness gives him an edge against other teams' best. His deft puckhandling skills and control over his speed are the defining aspects of his offensive abilities. All-in-all, a top talent that is both dynamic and hard to play against.
He's definitely got good size and the fact he's able to move quickly is seen as one of his better assets. That he can handle the puck well on top of that is a definite plus. There's a difference between someone who can move fast and someone who can play fast. McLeod may be in the latter category.
I would recommend checking out this profile by Tom Hunter at The Leafs Nation. It's especially worth reading as it highlights McLeod's possession game. He's been quite good at it from available data. Hunter cites the work Jeremy Crowe has done in terms of tracking McLeod's possession and zone entries. In the 25 games Crowe has done, McLeod has been well above 50% in Corsi (53.8% to be precise) and his most common zone entries and exits are with control. Those are definite pluses for his game. Hunter also highlights McLeod on defense, stating that "The centerman plays as complete a game as you will see from an 18-year-old." Hunter notes that McLeod could stand to be more selfish and, more importantly, work on his shot. Hunter's reasoning is that while McLeod has shot the puck frequently - the numbers back this up - he hasn't scored as many goals as expected. I can see where he comes from with that. With more production, though, I think the rankings would be closer to whoever at McKeen's loves him.
Since McLeod played in the OHL, it's worth looking at what Brock Otten thinks of the player. He rated him seventh in his list of Top 50 OHL Prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft. As usual, you should read the whole thing. But this part especially stood out to me:
I think the biggest thing holding back his offensive game is his shot. Needs to work on his release and become more confident shooting the puck. He seems to hesitate at times, and I feel like later in the year, defenders started to cheat on him a bit, forcing him to shoot rather than pass. He also has a bit of tunnel vision off the rush, and while it's refreshing to see him be so aggressive to the net coming across the blueline, or off the wall, again he can't be a one trick pony. Is that a reflection of poor hockey sense? Some might argue yes. Again, I think it comes down to a player who's still learning how to slow the game down.
I appreciate that Otten went more into depth about the issues with his shot as well as his general offensive game. Otten had plenty to praise regarding his skating and his defensive work; I got the sense that his passing was a plus. But this gets more into why he's rated where he is. Otten also came to the conclusion McLeod is more likely to be an important player in the middle of their forward group - second or third line - rather than be a top-line scorer. That's not a slam on him, but that projection - assuming others share it - may be also keeping McLeod out of the top ten of the NHL Draft.
Since I cited The Draft Analyst, here's what Steve Kournianos wrote about McLeod. His scouting report really gets to the heart of what makes McLeod a touted prospect. This part of it stood out to me:
The best word to describe McLeod’s game is rapid — everything he does is with effort and a sense of urgency. What separates McLeod from the lot of draft-eligible speedsters is that he has the size, strength and puck-control skills to go along with it. He’s an excellent passer either up the ice or diagonally in the offensive zone, and his ability to thread the needle while moving his feet can force opponents to cheat towards the pass. This creates a parting of the seas, and many times you’ll see McLeod zoom into a massive opening for a scoring chance of his own. Therein lies the rub, however, as McLeod generates a ton of shots towards the cage without the kind of finish you’d like to see from a high-end scoring forward. Nevertheless, he’s a pure center with good faceoff skills and a relentless desire to succeed. There’s no quit in McLeod; something many of his peers are clearly lacking.
I wonder who Kournianos is referring to at the end? In any case, this furthers the notion that McLeod isn't just a fast player but he plays fast. I appreciate that Kourianos noted how good he was at passing the puck and that he does take advantage of space for offense. The end also solidifies that, yeah, the shot needs some work. But all of the other pluses he noted in this section and in the profile are certainly pluses for any prospective center.
Ben Kerr at The Last Word on Sports has his usual detailed profile on McLeod here. These sections of it is especially worth noting as it focuses on his skating and his defensive work:
McLeod is an absolute speedster, with great top end speed and outstanding acceleration. McLeod might be the fastest skater in this entire draft- he’s that fast. On top of that he has excellent agility, and the ability to change directions quickly.
Mcleod is also able to provide great support on the backcheck. As a 17-year-old, he’s developing such a strong two-way game that the Steelheads match him against the other teams top lines, and use him to kill penalties. He brings his grit and tenacity in all three zones, being strong along the boards and playing a physical brand of defence. McLeod reads the play extremely well, and provides defensive support where it is needed. He is strong positionally, and more than willing to sacrifice his body at the defensive end.
The NHL has moved towards having their most offensive and talented forwards be able to match up against the other team's most offensive and talented forwards. Combined with the speed of the game, these two parts of Kerr's profile really highlights McLeod as one to watch for if only for being an exceptional skater and defensive player. Kerr thinks he'll need another year in juniors and compares his style to Ryan Kesler without the shot. Between this profile and the others I've read, I can definitely see that comparison being made. Expect it as June 24 comes ever closer.
A Little Video
As McLeod is considered to go in the first round and plays in the OHL, there's plenty of video available on him. First, here's a highlight video put together by draft prospect highlight video all star, bigwhite06. Look for #9 in this video:
You can really see the speed mix in with the offense with a shorthanded breakaway goal at the 57 second mark. He pressured an Ottawa player in the corner to force a pass to the point, McLeod closes down on the defenseman, strips him of the puck, and he goes off to the races for a goal. That made me go "wow" amid a video filled with clips intended for me (and you) to go "wow." Other points in the video show McLeod leading and making successful plays on odd man rushes. I did really like at 6:07 how physically gets past a defender for a loose puck and makes a pass to the slot the ended up with a goal. Most of these highlights really show off McLeod's decision making and his speed - he did most everything here just very quickly.
The other video that's worth your time is a video of all of his shifts from a game in this past season. ProssPark put this one together from a December 3, 2015 game against Niagara. It's 24 minutes long. Again, look for #9.
In this video and in the highlight video, McLeod was often playing with Nylander and Nathan Bastian on a top line. As Nylander is a potential top ten pick, scouts clearly got to see a lot of McLeod. In any case, early on in the video, you can see McLeod move and rotate very well on a penalty kill and move very well off and on the puck. He even chipped in a power play goal by cutting towards the net amid the Ice Dogs' PK early in the video too. It turns about to be a great game for McLeod on the scoresheet as he scored two goals, had an assist, and five shots on net. It's a good video to watch, as always from ProssPark.
An Opinion of Sorts
On his own, I like McLeod as a prospect quite a bit. He's very fast. He's very responsible in his own end and has been quite effective for Mississauga. He makes that line of Nylander, Bastian, and himself work. He's got enough of an offensive skillset to be excited for. As a center, what's not to like? OK, his shot needs work. That can be worked on. In general, a player like Ryan Kesler - shot aside - means the prospect is very desirable.
As for the Devils, I'm not so certain. While I'm confident Kesler's name will come up, I wonder if an alternate comparison for McLeod might be a faster Travis Zajac. Nothing wrong with that on its own. Zajac is now 31, the Devils would be wise to think about the future for his position regardless of his contract length. However, the Devils' needs both at a prospect and professional level are offensive players. Would adding another Zajac like player address that? If he turns out to be more productive like Kesler, is that much better? McLeod definitely has an offensive game and I really like how he does everything quickly. But I also think the Devils would be better served looking at prospects with higher upsides. Otten's conclusion really stands out. I agree that McLeod won't be "a 1st line, 80 point player in the NHL." The Devils should try to reach for a player with an upside that has that possibility.
That is indeed possible at #11 depending on how much you believe in the prospect. After Matthews, Laine, and Juljarvi, there's seven teams ahead of the Devils and the following prospects: Dubois, Tkachuk, Nylander, Juolevi, Chychrun, Keller, Sergachev, Brown, and Jost. While some of those players absolutely won't fall to #11, some will be available for New Jersey and they are more interesting adds than McLeod. The three defensemen definitely have offensive components to their games that would make them desirable for the Devils. The other forwards from McLeod - Keller (I hope), Brown, Jost - might turn out to be first line scorers. My point is that from my perspective that someone in that group going to be available at eleventh overall, and I think that's more in line in what I think the Devils can use. If the Devils were to trade down a few spots or if they had more scorers in their system, then I'd be very much on board with a McLeod selection. As it stands at #11, I wouldn't hate a selection of McLeod but I wouldn't prefer it over a selection of Keller, Brown, or Jost among others.
Michael McLeod remains as a first round prospect that will likely go in the first half of that round. He's certainly fast and effective at both ends of the rink. While I'm not big on the idea, would you want the Devils to take him at #11 and why? If not, why not? What about McLeod impresses you the most? What about him concerns you? If you've seen him play at Mississauga in this past season, then what did you think? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about McLeod in the comments. Thank you for reading.