It’s no secret that the 2016 NHL Draft crop is thin at center after expected first overall pick Auston Matthews, but once the highly-touted wingers and defenders are off the board in the top 10, a diamond in the rough will be available in the form of Michael McLeod.
Ranked 13th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, the Mississauga Steelheads’ top center scored 61 points (21G, 40A) in 57 games this season. The former fifth overall pick at the 2014 OHL Priority Selection Draft, McLeod joined his hometown Steelheads with plenty of pomp and circumstance, but he has been slow to develop into the elite center he is expected to be.
But if he’s not there yet, then he is pretty close. And one lucky team will be able to snag him lower than expected, as the talented centerman is going to be a star in the NHL someday.
The 2016 postseason was McLeod’s first in his major junior hockey career, his team having been one of the four to miss the playoffs entirely in 2014-15. Slightly overshadowed by the spectacle that Steelheads teammate and fellow 2016 draft prospect Alex Nylander put on in the first round series against the Barrie Colts, McLeod, too had a strong seven-game performance. The 6-foot-2, 187-lb. alternate captain scored three goals and tallied six assists, proving crucial to seventh-seed Mississauga’s near elimination of the second-seed Colts.
While Nylander was the flashy, main attraction who drew the attention of every scout in the arena through seven games, McLeod did what he has always done best – he quietly made key contributions to his team’s success, and enjoyed plenty of his own along the way.
While putting up lofty numbers really isn’t his thing, McLeod has plenty of untapped talent that is expected to explode in the 2016-17 season when he (most likely) returns to Mississauga for a third major junior campaign, similar to how Travis Konecny exploded this season following the 2015 NHL Draft. He’s got size, speed, exceptional puck-handling skills – you name it, he’s probably got it in his repertoire.
But beyond the statistics, McLeod’s one of the most intriguing, enticing prospects for scouts looking for a gritty, two-way center who can play in all situations. He’s even been compared to the Buffalo Sabres’ notable two-way forward Ryan O’Reilly — but with even better skating ability at the same age.
Essentially, the older McLeod is next in line for the captaincy in Mississauga. He’s got natural leadership qualities and is expected to form a one-two punch down the middle for the Steelheads with his brother Ryan next year. He’s a proven winner, having scored seven goals in as many games en route to an OHL Cup Championship with his Toronto Marlboros (in which he was named tournament MVP).
The OHL Cup is a highly-visible, high-stakes, high-pressure tournament that can make all the difference for OHL Draft prospects. McLeod’s exceptional performance likely pushed him way up the 2014 draft rankings, with scouts drooling over his offensive talent.
It was rumored that he would only report to Mississauga, so that may have contributed to his falling so far in the OHL draft. Regardless, he appears to be a franchise cornerstone for the Steelheads for the forseeable future, and possibly even for an NHL club in the distant future.
McLeod is a top-10 talent — don’t expect him to fall to a team that made the playoffs. Several teams in that mix who can really use his services include the Montreal Canadiens, Colorado Avalanche and Carolina Hurricanes, all of which are in need of a top-six center; there’s a good chance that Mississauga’s franchise center may become the franchise center for one of those NHL teams one day.
He may not be the most talked-about 2016 prospect now, but give it a few years – you’ll be hearing the name Michael McLeod everywhere.