By Tom Hunter (@)
When the New Jersey Devils spent their first two draft picks of the 2016 NHL draft on a couple of forwards from the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL, they weren’t just drafting linemates. Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastain are best friends and the self-proclaimed #SuperBuddies – if you don’t believe me, check out Bastian’s social media accounts.
After selecting Pavel Zacha in the top-10 last season, the Devils continued to build through the OHL as they spent the 12th overall pick this season on Michael McLeod – a player that was in the conversation with Clayton Keller as the best center in the draft not named Auston Matthews. McLeod was the fastest skater in the OHL this past season, likely the fastest in the draft, and has the tools to be a very good two-way center in the NHL.
In pre-draft profiles, I compared McLeod to a Canucks-era Ryan Kesler, a center with elite speed that can help on offense while being a top defensive forward and penalty killer. Watching the way McLeod carried the puck this year in the OHL, gave me flashbacks to Matt Duchene. He is able to drive the offense of his line with speed rarely seen in junior hockey and consistently creates offensive zone possession for his line. McLeod doesn’t have the finishing ability that Duchene had but is a far superior defensive player. He may not have the game-breaking potential of a guy like Keller, but if he continues to improve, McLeod has all the makings of being one of the best second line centers in the NHL.
The Devils weren’t finished, with their first pick on day two of the draft, New Jersey went back to Mississauga to select winger Nathan Bastian 41st overall. Bastian is a big winger, that plays well off of his linemates. He isn’t nearly as flashy as McLeod and Nylander, but he knows his game and doesn’t stray away from it.
Bastian uses his long reach and hockey instincts to create space for himself, as well as find ways to capitalize on scoring chances in close to the net. He’s a good skater for his size and a solid forechecker that could stand to be a little more physical in order to maximize his size advantage. As he fills out his frame, Bastian has the potential to be a very good complimentary middle-6 power forward at the next level.
It’s rare to see teammates drafted by the same NHL organization, but for the New Jersey Devils to select linemates with back to back picks this season is something special.
More importantly than their chemistry off the ice, is the chemistry they have on it. Bastian and McLeod were two-thirds of one of the top lines in the OHL this past season. Along with Buffalo Sabres first-rounder, Alex Nylander, the two forwards helped lead a very young Mississauga Steelheads team back into the playoffs this season.
2015 4th round pick Colton White