For your pleasure on this first Saturday in December, check out the 10 forwards in the NHL with the lowest offensive zone start percentages alongside the number of defensive zone draws they’ve taken, thanks to Natural Stat Trick (note: data taken before last night’s games):
If you notice, most of the people on the list have someone else on their team, probably their line, who is taking these faceoffs with them consistently. There are three Toronto players, another three from Columbus, and two from Dallas. That leaves only McLeod and Jay Beagle from Arizona as solos on this list. And they both really are solos. The next Devil forward on that list is Jimmy Vesey, who is ranked 50th in OZFO% among forwards, and the next Coyote forward is Johan Larsson, ranked 30th. McLeod, from that, obviously is the most isolated on his team when it comes to having the responsibility, as a forward, of playing in the defensive end and getting the puck up ice.
That is further symbolized by the sheer number of defensive zone draws that McLeod has taken. He ranks 3rd among all forwards in the NHL at 5v5 defensive zone faceoffs so far this year, behind only Bo Horvat and Ryan Getzlaf. However, both of those two have well over 300 minutes of ice time at 5v5, while McLeod has only around 250, considerably less at this point in the season. So while those two are out on the ice for all situations, McLeod is more of a specialist, mostly only coming out there to play defense. This is further confirmed by looking at the ranks for defensive zone draws on that list. McLeod is in sole possession of 3rd. The next best on that list is David Kampf at tied for 8th with 127, twenty full less draws than McLeod. No one else there is in the top 10.
So the Devils employ McLeod solely as a bottom 6 center with a duty to play defense and get the puck up ice. Once up the ice, he is usually off for scoring lines, as shown by his 0 goals and only 27 shots on net so far this year. But despite those scoring numbers, he is mostly doing a decent job, as his CF% is only at 48.09. That’s of course low overall, but when you only have 25.95 offensive zone start percentage, you most likely will not have a net positive Corsi.
And remember, he is doing this despite not having consistent linemates to work with, unlike those fourth liners in Toronto, Columbus and Dallas. McLeod’s most consistent linemate has been Vesey, who he has been on the ice with for a little over 140 minutes. However, they also have been separate for a little over 106 minutes, so it isn’t like they have been very much together the entire season, just a little over half of it so far. He might have found a new consistent partner in Nathan Bastian, once again on the team, but that doesn’t change what has happened up until now, and what he has achieved without a real consistent linemate. No one else has really done what he has this season without consistent teammates on his line. Jay Beagle is the closest, having a similar percentage of offensive zone draws without consistent linemates in the desert, but he also has had 40 less defensive zone draws, so he hasn’t done it quite as much.
Also, and worth noting, McLeod comes somewhat cheaply for this job. Beagle carries a $3 million cap hit in Arizona, and David Kampf, the one with the worst OZFO%, carries a $1.5 million cap hit, fairly more than McLeod’s $975k cap hit. The Devils are getting someone who is strong defensively, excellent at winning faceoffs and giving the Devils possession in their own end to get up ice, and he does so making less than a million a year. You might want to argue that as a former 12th overall pick, we should want to see more out of him, and that’s a very valid point, I would not disagree with that. And remember, there are players who do blossom later on, Blake Coleman for example. It just doesn’t happen often. However, if the Devils do get this sort of defensive production out of McLeod from a bottom 6 role, and he does a quality job with it, at least they are getting something out of that selection, unlike others in the past, Mattias Tedenby comes to mind among other picks.
So as of now, the Devils have in Michael McLeod a quality fourth liner who plays a strong defensive game, almost exclusively so, and has done it without consistent linemates, unlike most others in the league who are given a similar assignment. He has done this to the tune of ranking 3rd amongst forwards at 5v5 defensive zone faceoffs, and 8th overall from the bottom in OZFO%. And on top of all that, he’s the top faceoff man on the team, literally put out there in the overtime just to win a faceoff before rushing to the bench. I’ll take that for $975k a year, and I hope Lindy Ruff and Co. finally give him consistency on his line to finally give him some help in his job.