Since being drafted in the first round of the 2016 draft, Michael McLeod hasn’t really done much at all to establish himself as a viable option for the Devils roster. Prior to the draft, McLeod was described as an excellent skater, with above-average play-making, puck control and shooting - enough to be compared to Jonathan Toews in terms of play style (Dobber Prospects). He had the potential to develop into a top-line forward for the Devils at the time, but recent years have seen his stock heavily decline.
Two years out of the OHL, McLeod has yet to break double-digits in goals. In his NHL career so far, McLeod has played in 33 games, for a total of 5 assists and no goals. His production his significantly better at the AHL level, but still nothing that screams top-line center. Through 102 games, McLeod has totaled 14 goals and 42 assists, for a total of 56 points. His full stats can be found below.
So, what’s went wrong with McLeod? One possible solution could be the constant change within the Devils organization. For a young prospect, any drastic change of personnel or coaching can completely sway a team’s production, and that change definitely existed within the Devils. McLeod has seem himself shift from Rick Kowalsky to Mark Dennehy at the AHL level, and then saw a shift from John Hynes to Alain Nasreddine, and is about to enter the coming season with Lindsey Ruff at the helm. With all that change, McLeod has likely struggled to adapt to different philosophies with whatever team he plays with, and has struggled to find a role and play that best suits him.
Another issue, particularly during this season, was that he saw the majority of his ice time with John Hayden and Kevin Rooney - two non-threats offensively. This made up 42.37% of his time, which definitely contributed to his lacking numbers. Furthermore, McLeod saw himself only averaging 10 minutes of ice time a game, resulting in no time to truly distinguish himself as a viable option on the ice.
In terms of his advanced statistics, McLeod was awful. He saw his CF% at 38.4% - truly terrible numbers, and saw his relative Corsi at -8.0 percent worse than the average. To be noted though - anyone who played with John Hayden was terrible on the season, and McLeod saw 67% of his zone starts in the defensive zone, with no true option in how to get out.
Who McLeod Needs to Beat
Even with his struggles, McLeod is still only 22, with the pedigree of an mid-first round pick. In terms of who McLeod will be competing against, the Devils seem to value McLeod as a Natural center, so we can see what the Devils have locked in there. Nico Hischier, Travis Zajac and Pavel Zacha are all pretty much locked onto the team, with Jack Hughes a potential option down the middle or on the wing. Depending on what the Devils do, McLeod will likely be competing for that final center spot, though not necessarily on the 4th line. With Zajac’s continued aging, he might find himself better suited for the 4th line in the long term.
So, who will McLeod actually be competing against? If Kevin Rooney resigns with the team, that’s theoretically competition for McLeod, though Rooney should realistically be a depth piece in an ideal world. Brett Seney had an excellent year down in Binghampton, and likely offers the most internal competition for McLeod for that final spot. Meanwhile, Egor Sharangovich, Nate Schnarr and Fabian Zetterlund likely aren’t ready yet for the NHL, though will try to make a name for themselves in camp.
I don’t envision the Devils another center in free agency, unless an option arises which they can’t resist.
Overall, I think McLeod does break camp with the team, beating out Seney for that 3rd/4th line center spot. He has the first round pedigree to his name, and Tom Fitzgerald specifically called out McLeod as someone he’d like to see get more of a shot. I’d also be interested in seeing what McLeod can truly do in a more defined role.
Let me know what you guys think of McLeod in the comments below. Does he still have potential to be an NHL regular? What will become of him in the future? Besides that, have a good day, and take care!