TLN Draft Prospect Watch: Michael McLeod

It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Michael (Mikey) McLeod. Watching the young center play for Mississauga in the second half of his rookie season (2014-15), you could see that this was a player that would be right up near the top of the 2016 NHL draft even though his name was only ever mentioned as a late first rounder.  

McLeod is a player that has been all over the draft lists this season. It might seem like a stretch to think that he would be in consideration if the Leafs lost the lottery and were picking fourth, but there are those who believe that McLeod might be drafted in the top-5 ahead of more heralded prospects like Dubios, Tkachuk and Nylander. Along with Clayton Keller, McLeod is in the running to be the second best natural center in this year’s draft class behind Auston Matthews and that is something that could carry him up a lot of draft boards. 

Where Is He Ranked?

He currently sits ninth on our consolidated list but some have him as high as top-5 (McKeen’s actually has McLeod ranked at number three ahead of Jesse Puljujarvi). Others, on the other hand, have McLeod ranked as low as 15th which seems rather low for someone of his skill set. The two interesting comparables whenever looking at McLeod’s spot on any draft list is where he is in relation to Keller and his linemate Alex Nylander.

What He’s Good At

1. Speed. Mikey McLeod could very well be the fastest player in the entire 2016 draft. He’s got a smooth, effortless stride that allows him to get to speeds that are reminiscent of Matt Duchene’s time in the OHL. Whether it’s with the puck or coming back on defense, McLeod has shown the consistent ability to be able to blow by opposing players.


2. Driving Puck Possession. Over the past couple of years, the idea of a ‘possession player’ has come into focus. The old-school dump and chase method has been proven to be ineffective. McLeod is the type of player that while his point total might not jump out at you, his possession play and ability to drive the offense for his line should. Friend of the site Jeremy Crowe (@307x on Twitter) does a wonderful job of tracking OHL games, particularly ones in Mississauga. Through his data that he shared with us (see below), we can see McLeod as a player that is great at controlled zone entries, an aspect of play that is crucial for a line to create scoring chances.  

mcleod1

(in this graph ‘everyone else’ refers to draft eligible forwards)

3. Finishing Skills at the Net. He is not one of the OHLs leading scorers but Mikey McLeod knows how to score. He’ll never contend for the Art Ross but the way he plays the game lends itself to a consistent offensive output. The highlights may not come as frequently as his linemate, but when given room, McLeod has the ability to finish with the best of them. Add to that a knack for going to the net to finish the less glamorous plays, McLeod shouldn’t have trouble providing the production needed to play in the top-6 of a very good NHL team.  


4. A Three-Zone Game. When discussing draft eligible prospects, the most frequent criticism is likely ‘play without the puck’ or ‘needs work in his own zone’, neither of those things are relevant to Mikey McLeod. The centerman plays as complete a game as you will see from an 18-year-old. McLeod has the instincts to play without the puck and works to keep himself in position to make things easier on his defensive teammates. He has the size and strength to line up and shut down the best centers in the league. 

Where He Can Improve

1. His Shot. The biggest knock on McLeod is likely his shot. He gets a ton of shots on the net but doesn’t have the goal total that correlates with the number of chances he creates. 

2. He’s not selfish enough. The best players all have a big of selfishness to their game, and that is something McLeod could use a little more of. He has the playmaking skills that allow him to set up his linemates very well, the issue is that this leads to him looking pass-first a little too often. His offensive game could benefit from a little more greed because sometimes the best play is for him to just let his skill take over.

3. A little nastiness isn’t a bad thing. When I think of what kind of NHLer Mikey McLeod will be, the one idea that pops in mind frequently is Canucks era Ryan Kesler but a lot less dirty. McLeod has the size, speed and two-way game Kesler brought to Vancouver during his heyday but he does it without the overtly dirty play that Kesler has developed a reputation for. Now I’m not saying he should turn into a dirty player, but the hardest NHLers to play against often have a bit of nastiness to their game.

By The Numbers

As noted, McLeod’s point total was good, but not among the top of the OHL. He was out-produced by his linemate Alex Nylander but still game Mississauga 61 points in 57 games while playing part of the season on a bum knee before having a procedure to repair the injury. (stats from EliteProspects.com)

Capture

Again thanks to Jeremy, we can take a look at a much more in-depth look at McLeod. Here is some of the tracking data for 25 of McLeod’s games this season:

Capture

What Others Are Saying

From FutureConsiderations:

McLeod is showing his playmaking ability playing as the Steelheads first line center. A well-deserved honor to be named to the roster, McLeod is poised for an offensive outburst this year with a starring role in Mississauga. He is taking on a leadership role and building off his rookie season and constantly impresses me with his ability to thrive in pressure situations and his commitment to the defensive game.

From TSN:

High RPM motor that finds ways to impact the game in multiple areas. Excellent skater and uses it to get offensive chances or to disrupt opponents.

From EliteProspects:

Michael McLeod is a highly skilled power center that relies on nobody but himself to get the job done. His size and skating make him difficult to contain, and his competitiveness gives him an edge against other teams’ best. His deft puck handling skills and control over his speed are the defining aspects of his offensive abilities. All-in-all, a top talent that is both dynamic and hard to play against.

Next Season Could Be Huge

McLeod has spent his first two seasons playing in the OHL on a very young Mississauga Steelheads team. In a league usually dominated by 19 and 20-year-olds, Mississauga was lead to the playoffs with a group of 16, 17 and 18-year-olds. The top line of McLeod, Nylander and Nathan Bastian are all draft eligible, add Sean Day to the fold and you have four guys that will likely be drafted in the top-60 of this year’s draft. Adding to the high-end talent, are Nicolas Hague and Owen Tippett who could both end up in the top-10 of next summer’s draft. On top of all that talent you’ve got Michael’s younger brother Ryan McLeod who isn’t draft eligible until 2018 and could find himself in the same boat as his brother pushing for a top-10 pick. Mix in the fact that some believe Mississauga stole the best talent in this month’s draft by selecting Kirill Nizhnikov seventh overall and you can see why Mississauga will likely be a favorite in the OHL next season assuming everyone is back. 

Does He Make Sense For The Leafs?

If the worst case scenario happens and the Leafs lose the draft lottery, Michael McLeod should absolutely be a possibility at fourth overall. It might seem like a bit of a reach for some, but McLeod is the type of player that would fit in perfectly to the way Leafs management is building the team. 

With the Marner-at-center experiment all but abandoned, McLeod would instantly fit in behind William Nylander as the best young center in the organization. Unlike Nylander, McLeod is a natural center who plays a game more conducive to play off of immensely talented wingers like Marner. With this year’s draft being incredibly muddled after the top-3, picks four through ten (or even 12) are somewhat interchangeable and person preference/stylistic needs may take precedence in cases where best player available isn’t obvious. 

Another thing that can’t be ignored is that NHL scouts are often times out of their minds and a Mathew Barzal or Kyle Connor like fall could happen to guys like McLeod or Keller. If that’s the case, the Leafs should not hesitate to parlay some of their extra picks into jumping up to grab McLeod. If he’s still sitting on the board at the 14th pick and you can package PIT’s first and WSH’s second to move up, that’s a move that makes too much sense not to do. 

There are those that will tell you trading down is always the better option but when the Islanders get Mathew Barzal in the lineup next season, that theory will go out the window. Quality is usually better than quantity and sometimes trading up for a superior player is the right move and when you have as many draft picks as the Leafs do you can afford to be aggressive. 

Conclusion

The hope is that the Leafs won’t be picking fourth and that this is all a moot point, but if the Toronto-sports luck falls on us again and we spend May and June debating the fourth overall pick, Mikey McLeod is a player that should be in the conversation. He may not be Auston Matthews but he is the kind of big two-way center that will be able to anchor a team’s top-6 and would complement Nylander and Marner incredibly well.

  • Gary Empey

    when you say “natural” center what does that mean?

    so far in the u18 wc he plays the 3c role and not the 1c role. doesn’t that concern you that team canada don’t trust or won’t give him the 1c role. i fear he might be a very good two way 2C – something we already have one of.

    • Natural center meaning he’s grown up playing there his whole life unlike William Nylander, or Dubois this year.
      Playing that role at the U18 is likely due to the fact that the team is full of offensive talent but there aren’t as many guys that can fill the defensive C role.

  • magesticRAGE

    I’m pretty sure Willie Nylander is a natural center. He just started on the wing with the Marlies to get acclimated to North American game. He has proven it this season. In the SHL he was their top offensive centerman.

  • CMpuck

    McLeod is playing 3rd center at u18 and has 1 point in 4 games. Tyson jost is first line center and the captain as well as the tourney co-leader in points with 9 in 4 games. Jost has good speed and plays a two way game as well and I just don’t see what makes McLeod the better player right now. In fact, jost looked a whole lot better than puljujarvi as well in their game against Finland. Not saying he’s better than puljujarvi, but I’m not sure McLeod warrants being drafted before jost. Thoughts?

  • Gary Empey

    Michael McLeod is definitely the type of player Mark Hunter highly values. Speed, competitiveness, skill, and two way game. He could be the underrated surprise this year.

    Number one center is a position that needs to be filled, unless one believes Nylander and Kadri will be good enough to fill those roles at center.

    I would agree with Tom, in the unlikely event we end up picking 4th, we need to look closely at everyone in the top ten.

    Still it is hard to imagine passing over Tkachuk, Dubois, Nylander, Chychrun, Sergachev and others, to pick him up.

    Question would be: ” will he turn out to be better than Dubois at center?”
    He is not now but he just may be better in a couple of years due to his speed.

  • CMpuck

    Also in order to move up likely 10 ish spots from Pitts pick to 14th it would take Pitts first and our second. As in 31st overall. That is usually the cost to move up that much in first round. 14th for 24th and 31st could still be worth it as you said with your quality over quantity.

  • FlareKnight

    If we trade down for some random reason? Sure. Trade up for him if he starts to fall in the draft? That’s fine. At 4? No thank you.

    Sure, I’d go with whoever the Leafs decide to pick there. But that doesn’t mean I’d go into the draft being ok with absolutely anyone.

    I’d treat this as a very fringe option at 4.