Why Devils’ Michael McLeod wants to make jump to NHL this season
When Devils prospect Michael McLeod was ejected from Game 4 of the OHL finals for a major slashing penalty, his Mississauga Steelhead teammates didn’t know what to do.
McLeod, the Devils’ first-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, carried his team throughout the postseason, culminating a brilliant second half. Mississauga had plenty of other talented players, but fellow Devils prospect Nathan Bastian said it was still strange to trudge on without McLeod.
“And all of a sudden everyone’s looking down the bench,” Bastian recalled. “‘Where’s Mikey? What do we do now?'”
Mississauga’s playoff run ended one game later, and while McLeod had an early exit from one game, he capped off his season with 27 points in 20 playoff games following a 73-point regular season.
McLeod will enter his final year of junior eligibility next season, but if it were up to him, he wouldn’t use it. Like he said last summer, he wants the Devils to give him a hard look for the NHL roster.
“Right now it’s my goal to be on that team,” McLeod told NJ Advance Media. “I’m going to do whatever I can, I’m going to do whatever coach tells me to do. I’m going to work hard every practice and shift. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll head back to Mississagua and try and win there next year.”
McLeod is aiming to follow in the footsteps of 2015 first-round pick Pavel Zacha, who made the Devils and played 70 games as a 19-year-old instead of being sent back to juniors.
Zacha and McLeod will enter camp as part of a crowded group of potential centers that includes Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, Brian Boyle and Nico Hischer, plus others. While McLeod and the Devils both want him to play in the middle, McLeod wouldn’t mind jumping on the wing if it meant contributing in the NHL.
“I’d play wing, left wing, right wing, wherever they put me to get in the lineup,” McLeod said. “It’s an honor to play in this league, it’s the best league in the world, and you do whatever you can just to get here.”
After being drafted, McLeod said putting on about 15 pounds was one of his immediate goals. He was last listed at 195 pounds after being 185 pounds as the 12th overall pick in 2016.
“I’ve just been working on my shot and trying to put on weight, which I’ve done, and I think I’ve gotten a lot stronger and improved my skating more,” McLeod said. “I’ve been working on the edges this summer. I think it’s coming together.”
Even if McLeod doesn’t make the NHL jump in 2017-18, he has shown through two development camps that he will be one of the players making an impact for the Devils down the line.
At McLeod’s current level, Bastian said there isn’t much slowing him down.
“He was lights out all year,” Bastian said. “If you know our team, it was power play, Mikey. Face-off, Mikey. You name it. He does it all.