On Sunday, Mississauga Steelheads centre Michael McLeod picked up a pair of assists as the Steelheads defeated the North Bay Battalion 4-2 in OHL action. The assists gave McLeod 16 points in 13 games on the season, while the win over their Central Division rivals ensured that Mississauga would remain in second place in the standings.
Focusing on McLeod, who many rate as a first round talent for the 2016 NHL draft, I saw a player who exhibited strong passing skills and excellent vision. He is also an absolute speedster, with great top end speed, and outstanding acceleration. On top of that he has excellent agility, and the ability to change directions quickly. McLeod uses his skating ability to its full advantage to elude defenders and open up passing and shooting lanes. With his non-stop motor, a willingness to get in quickly on the forecheck, and to provide great support on the backcheck, McLeod makes the most of those skills.
As a 17-year-old, he’s developing such a strong two-way game that the Steelheads match him against the other teams top lines, and use him to kill penalties. In fact his penalty killing prowess was evident as the Steelheads killed a four minute powerplay late in the third, while nursing a one-goal lead, as well as facing another shorthanded situation in the last two minutes up 3-2. Fellow 2016 draft eligible Sean Day scored a shorthanded goal into the empty net to ice the victory, but all the penalty killers, including McLeod, deserve praise.
The Steelheads are a young team with four players (Mcleod, Alex Nylander, Sean Day, and Nathan Bastian) all getting attention from NHL scouts for the 2016 Draft, while Owen Tippett is one to watch for the 2017 NHL draft and Michael’s younger brother Ryan McLeod could be a top pick in the 2018 NHL draft. Watching them this season though, it appears that Michael McLeod is emerging as a leader of the young group of Steelheads prospects.
After the game I had the chance to talk to McLeod about the game and his season so far. Here is what he had to say.
When asked to describe the plays that led to his two assists, he stated, “The first one was a nice call from Nylander and I just through it cross ice and Burny (Josh Burnside) put it in. The second one was the same thing, I got a nice pass from Alex (Nylander) and Stefan Leblanc made a nice pull-up in the slot, and I passed it and he picked the top corner.”
McLeod praised his team’s effort level in the win, saying, “North Bay is a team with probably the best work ethic in the league, they are very aggressive. We knew we had to come out hard, play the same way, and play our game if we wanted to beat them.”
When asked about being part of the penalty kill this season, and earning his coach’s trust, McLeod stated, “I think its about playing more in those types of situations. At the Ivan Hlinka, I played the penalty kill a lot, and felt I did a good job. Now into the season, I think I’ve been doing allright with it.”
On why his second year has shown an early season offensive breakout, McLeod says, “Its all about experience, and knowing what to do in certain situations. When to put the puck in deep and when to try and make a play. Its a huge difference from last year.”
McLeod was recently named to Team OHL for the upcoming Canada/Russia Super Series. He says that being named to the team “Was a little bit of a surprise, but it gave me a lot of confidence. Its going to be a fun game and I’m really excited to have the opportunity.”
On what playing for the OHL at this level means for future opportunities “Obviously I don’t expect to make this year’s World Junior team, but I want to make an impression so that I can be considered for a spot next year.”
On going through the experience of his draft year with multiple teammates, McLeod stated, “Its really exciting with the guys, Alex (Nylander), Sean (Day) and Nathan (Bastian). There is pressure, but we can talk to each other, and help each other through it.”
One thing that was clear throughout the interview is that McLeod isn’t letting the success go to his head. He is quick to deflect praise away from himself and onto his teammates and coaches. He is also focused on continuing to improve and continuing to perform his responsibilities at both ends of the ice, and help the team win. Given the skill and the results, it would not be a surprise to this analyst if McLeod is the first Trout plucked from the icy Mississauga Waters on NHL Draft day, even ahead of highly hyped teammates Alex Nylander and Sean Day. This isn’t a knock against those two, but praise for McLeod who is proving to be just as good of a prospect early in the year.
The Steelheads next home game is Friday, October 30th against the Hamilton Bulldogs.