It’s rare that linemates in junior-hockey remain teammates at the next level, but that’s exactly what happened at the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo in June when the New Jersey Devils selected two ’Super Buddy’18-year-olds: Michael McLeod (round 1) and Nathan Bastian (round 2) who were line/teammates with Mississauga of the Ontario Hockey League. In a weird twist of fate, since the draft the Devils acquired Adam Henrique’s linemate from Windsor during his junior-hockey days, Taylor Hall, and it’s widely expected that the two will be linemates in New Jersey; at least to start the season.
Wouldn’t it be something if in (give-or-take) three seasons Henrique and Hall are (still) on the Devils’ top line and McLeod and Bastian are following them up on the second line? “We played on the same line the last two years and it’s been a good journey with him,” said McLeod. “If we get the chance to play in the NHL together, that would be something.”
— NHL (@NHL) July 17, 2016
That’s obviously the goal of Bastian, McLeod and all of the Devils’ draftees and prospects and they all took the first step with that goal in mind in July at New Jersey’s Development Camp. It’s almost a certainty that both will be back in the OHL thus upcoming season though, as assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald told The Hockey Writers following the conclusion of the camp.
“You can go back and do the math. How many 18-year-olds are playing in the National Hockey League?,” Fitzgerald rhetorically asked. “We have relationships with the coaching staffs there (in Juniors) and our development staff heads that up. Wherever they are they’ll be well-looked after and put on a development plan, to eventually become a New Jersey Devil.”
— Andrew Mordzynski (@amordzynski) July 17, 2016
There is a lot expected of both of these young men, but not right away. Fitzgerald, who really organized and ran the camp, was happy to show off the talent that the organization acquired during the first two rounds during the scrimmage that was open to the public. “The ability to show off our top picks to our fans (in this setting) is a great thing. The way they played…it was fun; it was hard not to smile.
Following the conclusion of camp, THW caught up with Nathan Bastian to find out if he had any idea that he and his super buddy would be reunited in New Jersey, what the experience of the NHL Draft was like and his impressions of the week-long development camp, among other topics.
— Nathan Bastian (@14Nbast) June 24, 2016
The Hockey Writers: Did you have any clue you and McLeod would be continuing your hockey careers together in the New Jersey organization?
Nathan Bastian: It was really hard to tell; after Mikey got picked there on Friday I didn’t get much of a chance to talk to him. He and his family were in a different hotel than us. I guess he was bugging the New Jersey guys and he said something like: you should pick Nate tomorrow morning. New Jersey was up and they were picking…and it was me. Obviously it was pretty cool.
— Deedee (@devilschick26) July 16, 2016
THW: When you went to bed Friday night did the thought cross your mind about how it would be cool to be reunited with him on the Devils?
NB: Going to bed I was just so excited for Saturday. I wanted to be an NHL draft pick. After I was a New Jersey pick, it was a half-hour later that I think it really sunk in that Mikey landed in the same spot. That just added excitement to the whole thing already.
THW: Have you guys talked about what you’re going to try to accomplish at the main training camp here in New Jersey in September?
NB: No, we haven’t really looked that far ahead. You ask some questions to the older guys about what the training camp will be like. But for us we’ve just come in here and tried to get a feel for the city, the staff and trainers, that kind of stuff. Training camp isn’t that far away but at the same time we’ll still put in X amount of workouts, everyday, every week. There’s still a lot of work to do (before then).
THW: This week at Development Camp they split McLeod and yourself up, placing you on different teams; did you expect that to happen?
NB: When we got here we ended up in different (locker) rooms, so we kind of figured coming into it they wouldn’t let us hang out by each other’s side all week.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) July 16, 2016
THW: McLeod scored in the first period of today’s scrimmage and you came back and one-upped him with two in the second. What was it like for both of you to be able to contribute like that?
NB: It was good; I was mad when he scored and then I scored a pair. He told me after the game he missed my goals. I didn’t realize he wasn’t playing. He gave me an excuse, that he would’ve had two if he was playing the whole game (smiles), it was cool.
THW: You guys did a lot of off-ice stuff this week, team building/bonding things; what were some of the things that you really enjoyed?
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) July 15, 2016
NB: Honestly it was all cool. It was all new to me. The go-carting…where I’m from, those things are way faster; it’s like actual go-carting. The game was fun. My first time to Yankee Stadium; I’m not a big baseball fan but you still appreciate (seeing) their Monument Park and all of that. That stuff is pretty cool.
THW: For a lot of the Devils fans out there, they haven’t really seen you play much. Can you tell them what your season was like last year?
NB: It was a good season, it was like most seasons I think. A few ups and downs; you try to not get too high and also not get too low. Where I played in Mississauga we put together a pretty good line there and we were really clicking at certain points. I think similar to last year, next year will be a lot of the same thing except even better.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.