2016 NHL Draft: The Interesting Case of Michael McLeod

Arguably the fastest skater in the draft class and a quality playmaker, Michael McLeod is one of the draft's most intriguing players. | Photo: Aaron Dell, OHL Images

Arguably the fastest skater in the draft class and a quality playmaker, Michael McLeod is one of the draft’s most intriguing players. | Photo: Aaron Dell, OHL Images

Every draft class seems to have a highly-thought of forward prospect that isn’t backed up by high-end production: Lawson Crouse in 2015, Nick Ritchie and Jake Virtanen in 2014, Bo Horvat in 2013, Tom Wilson in 2012, etc. Michael McLeod appears to be the 2016 NHL Draft’s version.

With 61 points in 57 games, good for 1.07 points-per-game, McLeod’s production isn’t special, which makes his consistent ranking by independent scouting agencies between 11-13 rather interesting. Especially when considering that McKeen’s had him ranked top-three at one point, and now ranks him seventh.

However, it is important to keep in that mind a top-10/15 pick is expected to be above his peers, but McLeod isn’t. In fact, he ranks 20th in first-time draft-eligible scoring among forwards:

Top 20 draft eligible forwards

Furthermore, McLeod’s 1.07 PPG clip significantly behind the average 1.24 pace that the average CHL forward selected between #9-12 from 2000 to 2010 posted in their draft year. The three forwards who were below that clip? Petr Tatichek, Kyle Beach, and Brandon Sutter. Between the three, only Sutter is not a bust.

So why, considering the statistics, is McLeod so highly regarded?

First, it’s important to keep in the mind the context, as in the system (or lack of) that McLeod played in and he quality of teammates. It’s also important to balance the tantalizing flashes with the product that McLeod consistently puts up. The flashes indicate a player completely deserving of the rankings, but the overall result doesn’t.

Don’t Doubt the Trout”

This season Mississauga owned a highly-talented roster, featuring a top-line of Alexander Nylander, Nathan Bastian, and Michael McLeod. While the depth scoring wasn’t particularly good, their young defence had sky-potential, mostly based on the performances of Sean Day, Stefan Leblanc, Stephan Gibson, and a top prospect for next year’s draft, Nic Hague.

However, the on-ice product wasn’t good:

W%GFGAGF%SFSASF%PDO
47.75 (12th)213 (12th)226 (12th)48.52 (13th)1934 (19th)2198 (12th)46.91 (16th)100.79 (9th)

Mississauga consistently underperformed. The free-flowing offence was dominated by even slightly more skilled teams, creating a huge problem for McLeod, especially while playing away from Nylander. McLeod, while talented, isn’t a particularly creative offensive player. He plays a straight-line game, that utilizes his explosiveness to constantly up the tempo. In the open structure, it appeared that McLeod was often lost in the offensive zone, unable to mentally keep up with Nylander.

There’s no doubt that McLeod could have been better, but I believe the nature of Mississauga inhibited his ability to produce more.

The Flashes

The flashes are most definitely impressive. The OHL’s fastest player instantly changes the tempo of the game to his speed, one that is unmatched by anyone else. McLeod is a carry-out zone-exit machine, utilizing this speed to blow past forecheckers and create rushes. Defenders give McLeod plenty of room as they fear getting burned by his explosiveness. He’s also great at carry-in zone entries, but he also utilizes passes or dump-ins at nearly the same rate.

Although McLeod’s hands aren’t particularly special, he is able to beat defenders by putting the puck where he wants to go, with occasionally mixing in a flashy deke (although they don’t always work). In tight, his hands are quick and soft, allowing him to create space for himself.

McLeod is definitely a stronger playmaker than goalscorer. His vision off the rush is well above-average, and his passing technique is quite good. Although he doesn’t have a saucer pass of most high-end playmakers, he is equally as good at locating passing lanes.

It’s shooting and goalscoring where McLeod needs serious refinement. The actual tools are pretty good: A fast release and quality accuracy. But the power isn’t there. HeĀ is a net-front goalscorer, typically on the left side of the net, but is not a long-range shooting threat in the least.

In the defensive zone, McLeod competes, picks up his assignments well, and excels in the faceoff dot; however, he’s prone to making clumsy puck-handling errors and puck-watching. He’s definitely an above-average OHL defensive player, but there’s refinement needed.

The flashes are easily exciting. The OHL’s fastest forward, with an explosive first step, barrelling up the ice, weaving through traffic and then finding a teammate with a gorgeous pass through traffic at top speed. It’s a unique skill. Add in the fact that he’s playing intense, and a quality defensive game, and it’s easy to see the McLeod’s upside.

The Full Package

However, that McLeod merely appears in flashes. The speed, defensive capability, and playmaking are always there, but the rest isn’t.

The space given to him by defenders often results in McLeod skating directly into the defender’s stick. This forces him to either fire a soft shot on net as he no longer as the space to properly get power into it or lose possession entirely.

McLeod’s skating is incredible, but he typically plays at one speed: Blazing fast. While it has it’s advantages, there’s no creativity in this. It becomes predictable. He will need to add in more stops and starts into his game, while also playing at different speeds in order to become a more diversified threat.

As the season wore on, McLeod got better at passing to his teammates off the rush and occupying a lane while driving the net. This helps create space for teammates, but it’s still not done with consistency.

While all of those are legitimate issues with his ability to score off the rush, his ability to create offence in extended zone time is even more troublesome. In fact, he fails to get open for his linemates and doesn’t have enough creativity to create offence. On the powerplay, he isn’t particularly effective, which is reinforced by his mere 15 points on the man-advantage, considerably behind Nylander and Bastian.

The “little things” are important, and McLeod typically does them well. But in the bigger picture of offence, McLeod appears to be missing a few components.

Thoughts

There’s definitely excellent skill with McLeod. The flashes aren’t mistakes–they are legitimately skilled plays that result in often highlight-reel goals. But if he’s not making those plays consistently at the OHL level, how can he at the NHL level?

McLeod is the classic case of hands and decision-making need to “catch up” to his feet.

The team that drafts McLeod will certainly understand that he is a project. Whatever the problem is, confidence, decision-making, or where he plays, I believe it can be rectified.

The flashes are worth the gamble in the first round. At the Montreal Canadiens ninth overall slot, I believe there will quite a few better options. That’s not to say that I think McLeod would be a bad pick at nine–he wouldn’t.

McLeod is a worthwhile project who has some top-10 worthy attributes, but the actual execution is closer to a mid-to-late first round pick.

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