Once considered a sure-fire top 5-10 pick in this year’s draft, Michael McLeod has seen his stock drop a bit of late after a bit of a lacklustre U18 tournament and questions about how his offence will translate at the next level. A very gifted natural athlete in a large and solid frame, McLeod boasts many of the attributes scouts drool over; however, while his failure to dominate on the scoresheet this year may be a case of a lower ceiling than first imagined, it may also be that he has often skated with several elite offence-first players, causing his more well-rounded speed game to seem complimentary by comparison. If the Habs gamble on McLeod at 9, they are getting a big speedy centre who will play in the NHL – whether he represents the kind of homerun swing you like to see from a top ten pick is still the subject of much debate.
NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters): 13th
TSN (Button): 19th
TSN (McKenzie): 15th
ISS Hockey: 13th
Hockey Prospect: 19th
Future Considerations: 15th
McKeen’s Hockey: 7th
McLeod’s game is all about speed; he possesses great acceleration and an elite top gear that would rank among the best in the NHL before he even hits the draft floor. His strong stride and balance, coupled with his 6’2” frame makes him equally adept and blowing through defenders, or beating players cleanly to the outside with a deceptive extra push that can open up a lot of pass/shot opportunities that wouldn’t normally be there for most players.
There have been some scouts that have criticized him for only being able to play at top speed and not slowing the game down by changing gears to throw defenders and goalies off. This criticism seems to be mostly unfounded; while McLeod does spend most of his time charging to the net or rushing all-out up the ice from a defensive breakout, this can be attributed to the fact that in junior, his skating ability is so far beyond the average player that he can beat them on speed alone. He does not necessarily have to depend on waiting for help or slick stick handling to get open shots on the net. When the need arises to put on the brakes and hit a teammate for a better shot or cycling position, McLeod has demonstrated solid hockey sense and vision, and well above average passing ability.
One possible area of concern for McLeod seems to be his shot which will require a bit of extra power and a faster release if he hope to use it to beat goalies at the NHL level. His shot is not necessarily weak, and he shows good accuracy and selection, but, aside from his backhand he depends mostly on being able to get open or cutting across the crease to force the goalie to open his stance. The fact that he has great hand-eye coordination and natural athleticism allows McLeod to score goals from in close off of tip-ins and deflections. These types of dirty goals often translate well to the next level so his lack of an elite release may be of less concern given the type of game he plays.
Additionally, he is a complete 200 foot player, demonstrating excellent effort and ability in the defensive zone and using his reach and speed to disrupt plays in the neutral zone and create chances in transition. His motor and stamina levels both seem close to endless as he never gives up on a play and often hits the bench at full speed. Above average in almost all areas aside from his shot and elite in his skating ability, he is essentially the anti-Pierre Dagenais. Michael hits well and is not afraid to go to dirty areas to get the puck, but he is not an overly physical player. He could stand to gain a bit more weight, but once again, due to his elite speed he has not been forced to spend the majority of his time chipping the puck in, and digging it out of the corners.
McLeod will likely return to the OHL for at least another season where he could be poised for a breakout year if his two draft eligible linemates (Nathan Bastian and Alex Nylander), also projected to go in or around the first round, return with him. A two or three year timeline to gain weight and work on his shot seem like a reasonable expectation to see McLeod in the NHL, at which point he could very well leave people wondering how such an obvious package fell so far in the draft.