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Michael McLeod Making the Most of his Bridge Deal

McLeod has been playing some strong hockey lately, and he has shown that he can play in a top 9 role right now. If that continues, it will be a real boon for this Devils team both now and in the future.

NHL: DEC 27 Blue Jackets at Devils Photo by Andrew Mordzynski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This past offseason, Tom Fitzgerald decided to qualify restricted free agent Michael McLeod and bring him back to the New Jersey Devils on a one-year, bridge deal worth $1.4 million. It was a fair and appropriate deal for the former first round pick, as he had shown up to that point that he was a competent fourth line center and one of the best faceoff men in the NHL. But outside of that, he had not really proved he could handle more, as he was unable to do more in a top 9 role when given time there.

This season, however, he is making the most of his chances outside of the top 9, and in fact, he has been one of the better players on the team recently while playing on a line with Dawson Mercer and Timo Meier. Never mind simply being a defensive forward who could win draws and get the puck up ice, he has been a strong contributor to the offense, putting up quality numbers and helping the Devils in their recent wins. As of now, here are some of his numbers, and his rank among forwards on the Devils, at least those that have played at least 50 5v5 minutes so far this year. Info from Natural Stat Trick. 13 forwards make the list.

As you can see, you can make the argument that he has been one of the top 5 forwards on this team at 5 on 5, at least when you look at these numbers. He has a strong possession game, 5th among forwards. He has the best goals for percentage among forwards at 5v5, and while it is inflated somewhat when compared to his expected goals, his expected goals are still 4th among forwards and show that it isn’t all unwarranted. He has the 2nd highest goals for percentage at high danger, and most impressively, he does this all despite having the 2nd worst offensive zone faceoff percentage among forwards, ahead of only Chris Tierney.

And remember, this is only his 5 on 5 play. While that is the biggest part of the game, and the most important, we also should not forget that McLeod has a large role on the team’s penalty kill, which has been dynamite recently. McLeod deserves some credit for that as well, with the 3rd most minutes on the PK among Devils’ forwards. That has always been a big part of his game, and while the other parts of his game are improving to the point where he has been a good middle 6 player recently, he still has his foundation of good defensive hockey.

And, let’s not forget the best part of his game either, faceoffs. As of right now, he is the best faceoff man in the NHL. His 65.78% faceoff win percentage is the best in the NHL for anyone with at least 60 faceoff attempts. And he has nearly 350 attempts. The next best faceoff man in the league has been Vincent Trochek for New York, but he is over 2% worse than McLeod. That is very impressive stuff.

What is happening to McLeod right now is sort of like what we saw with Blake Coleman years ago. Coleman did not really break out and become a solid top 9 forward until he turned 26 years old. McLeod is 25 now, and if this is a similar breakout like Coleman had, that would be great news for the Devils. McLeod is still a restricted free agent after this season, so if he shows that he can be more than just a fourth liner like he was previously, and if he can actually begin to hit on that first round potential the Devils thought he had when they drafted him, it could lead to a longer and bigger contract, and a win-win all around.

Of course, this is all still speculatory at the moment. Just because McLeod is playing well now does not mean he has broken out and will continue to play at this higher level. This could turn out to be a hot streak, and he could come back down to earth at some point. I don’t want to crown him just yet and look at big deals to keep him around. Let’s see how he plays moving forward this season. If he can continue to play at this higher level, and show us that he has grown into more than a fourth liner, then that is fantastic news and it really is like a Coleman breakout. For now, let’s enjoy his enhanced play and hope it leads to more wins for the Devils.