It’s been quite the season for the Michael McLeod, and it could end with him pulling a Winnipeg Jets sweater over his head on draft day.
As Winnipeg slips further down the draft order thanks to their recent winning ways, some players that might not have been in contention to be Jets picks a month ago suddenly look like prime targets. It’s looking less and less likely that Auston Matthews will be swooping in to save the day in Winnipeg, so the Jets and their fans will have to make due with some of the other young talents in this draft. Luckily, there are good options.
Enter McLeod, who started out the year as a top ten prospect according to the incomparable Bob McKenzie and finished the year more or less in the same spot. McLeod has been remarkably consistent on a very young Mississauga Steelheads team that would seem to have their best years ahead of them. He finished the year with an above-average, albeit not eye-poppin,g stat line of 61 points in 57 games.
The statistics, admittedly, don’t jump off the page, and that is a red flag for a top prospect, especially one playing with other top prospects like Alex Nylander, but the Steelheads were young this year, and while they were competitive they weren’t a top team. And if you read the stats and think McLeod is lacking offensive talent, you are sorely mistaken.
Given how many of their best players are 18 or younger, I wouldn’t bet against the Steelheads the next couple of season.
A World of Potential
McLeod still needs to add muscle (as most 18 year-olds do) but he has a 6’2 frame and a set-up man’s touch. He showed great chemistry with his linemates in Mississauga and he kind of teases you that way. If he could ever get that kind of chemistry with NHL linemates he could be an all star.
McLeod is also leaps and bounds ahead of the average draft eligible forward in his own zone. He plays responsibly in the defensive end and is a fixture on the penalty kill for the Steelheads. He has a long reach, a long stride, and fast legs, which make him ideally suited for the penalty kill, something the Jets have had far too much need for at present.
McLeod isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas to score either. He isn’t the tip-in master that a prospect like Matthew Tkachuk is, but he’s not shy around the net.
Steelheads break the deadlock in Game 7 thanks to Michael McLeod. https://t.co/QIVovk5FcX
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 6, 2016
Perhaps the most impressive thing about McLeod is his ability to suck defenders in on the rush, bringing back-checkers to him and leaving his linemates wide open. He’s good about getting open himself when others have the puck and he’s not afraid to shoot it, but he’s at his best when he’s setting others up, as his assist-heavy stat line would indicate.
The Jets are trying to build a big, fast team, and while he’s a few years away from the NHL for certain, McLeod projects as exactly that kind of player down the line. Throw in some soft hands and a complete offensive game, as well as some penalty kill acumen, and McLeod could be just the man to help the Jets.
After all, the Jets are finally starting to amass snipers. Mark Scheifele looks like a future 40-goal man, Nikolaj Ehlers can rip a puck with the best of them, and Kyle Connor may yet be the best shooter out of any of them. Those shooters are going to need somebody who can feed them the puck down the road. If that player happens to also be able to kill penalties, work the puck down low, and bury chances with the best of them, that’s an added bonus.
So while I wouldn’t have counted on it even as recently as two weeks ago, the Jets might just be in a position where taking Michael McLeod on draft day makes the most sense. Is McLeod going to turn the franchise around overnight as Matthews is expected to? No. Is he going to be a serviceable NHLer for years to come and boost some lucky team in every way?
The Jets may be lucky enough to find out for themselves.