Talented Draft Looming
The annual NHL Entry Draft, held this year at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, June 24th-25th, provides each and every NHL franchise the opportunity to acquire valuable young assets who they feel will strengthen their teams in the future.
In 2015, the Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel debate set the hockey world ablaze, as all teams featured within the Draft Lottery hoped for the balls to land in their favor, and in doing so, secure one of two generational talents. All though just two teams, the Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres, were fortunate enough to secure one of these two players, the upcoming 2016 Draft is proving to be no different, with numerous young players of incredible skill available to be selected.
Sure, we are all aware of Auston Matthews, who appears to be the consensus first overall pick, as well as the two fantastic ‘Fins’ in Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine, who helped lead their Nation to a gold medal at the recent World Junior Championship. On top of these players, Alexander Nylander has also garnered considerable interest, so too has Jakob Chychrun of the Sarnia Sting.
However, one player who has seemingly flown under the radar, despite being listed within the top-ten of multiple rankings prepared ahead of the draft, is Mississauga Steelheads center Michael McLeod.
If you’ve yet to hear of Michael McLeod, it’s not entirely surprising, especially so considering he is playing alongside Alexander Nylander, the son of Michael and brother of William who is also expected to be selected in the top-ten of the 2016 Draft.
Nylander has garnered considerable, if not more attention than McLeod leading up to the draft, yet even more so following his impressive performance with Sweden at the WJC. Over seven games, Nylander scored four goals and nine points, totals which led his team.
In the Ontario Hockey League, Nylander has been similarly dominant, leading all rookie skaters in scoring as well as his team in Mississauga. However, his fellow team and line-mate has also been an offensive force in his second year in the OHL, as McLeod, the teams first line center, has arguably been the Steelheads’ most dangerous player on a consistent basis.
What is most notable, having seen McLeod play on multiple occasions this season, is his elite skating ability. Personally, I would be so bold as to compare both his speed and acceleration to that of Connor McDavid. McLeod has the ability to pick up the puck in the defensive or neutral zone and quickly carry it into the offensive, turning defenders or setting up trailing teammates. Although he doesn’t have the same mobility at top speed as McDavid, skating is one of McLeod’s greatest weapons, likely topping all others in the draft.
In terms of his other offensive skills, McLeod’s shot is also of high quality, but is not overwhelming. He has the ability to place shots and has a quick release, talent which allowed him to surpass his rookie goal total this season by nearly 30 games.
Vision and passing are also high on McLeod’s long list of skills, especially so considering he is a pass first center-ice man. Playing alongside Nylander, as well as potential first round pick Nathan Bastian, McLeod has plenty of options in terms of dishing the puck, resulting in McLeod collecting far more assists than goals thus far in his OHL career.
Lastly, McLeod is also strong in the faceoff dot, a testament to his complete game. In the 2015-16 season, McLeod has carried close to a 60% faceoff winning percentage cross nearly 1000 draws taken, one of the best marks league wide.
Based on McLeod’s play to date, as well as the interpretation of his skills by others in the hockey community, McLeod looks to be a lock to be selected top-ten in the coming draft.
But, should he be selected higher?
Sure, there are a ton of highly talented players who could be drafted ahead of him, but McLeod has been quietly dominant this season, and more talented than, I would argue, his fellow teammate Nylander.
McLeod is an incredibly skilled all-around player, who has consistently displayed not only strong offensive skills, but also impeccable defensive and faceoff skills. He has the ability to lead the rush, finish his checks, and simply make his teammates better. In the long run, McLeod projects to be a number one or two center in the NHL, drawing comparisons to Taylor Hall for his skating, and Nicklas Backstrom for his vision and overall abilities.
Come the draft, teams in search of a number one center would be smart to seriously consider selecting McLeod. Although there are a number of highly skilled players likely to be selected before he is, McLeod has incredible potential, and given his decent size at 6 foot 2, 190, there remains room for growth, not only physically, but also skill wise.
Teams interested in his services could be the Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames or Winnipeg Jets, depending on final standings and outcome of the Lottery Draft.