The 2016 NHL Entry Draft is 21 days away and the Minnesota Wild are looking to find that next star to raise their franchise to the next level. Hockey Wilderness is counting down the days with a mock draft. We are at Pick 15 today, and the Minnesota Wild are on the clock.
The Minnesota have been in a bit of draft pick purgatory in recent years; they are too late to get unquestionably elite-level talent, but not so late as to mean they've achieved serious postseason success. With a deeper draft class than many this year, there are two players on the board that meet the Wild's needs and are arguably the best players on the board.
Wild Prospect Pool
The Wild prospect pool doesn't need as much introduction as many other teams. We know the prospects; Joel Eriksson Ek, Alex Tuch, and Jordan Greenway are the high-flying forwards, with Kirill Kaprizov and Sam Anas looking exciting as well. Mike Reilly, Gustav Olofsson, Christian Folin, and Louis Belpedio are the up-and-coming defenseman, with Reilly and Folin already earning NHL minutes.
Goaltending leaves something to be desired... Stephen Michalek and Kaapo Kahkonen are just about the only two netminders with NHL potential, and both are a ways out. Fortunately, the Wild are set with Dubnyk in goal for several season; they need a backup plan, with Darcy Kuemper looking likely for a move this offseason. The draft is no way to fix that, however.
Position of Need?
The Wild are in the process of "restocking the cabinet." Their prospect pool has been so barren for so long that they can essentially elect to draft the best player available and feel confident in that player having a path to the NHL. The exception may be a defenseman, but even then: a player drafted in 2016 will have several years before they are probably ready to contribute in the NHL.
There are two players who have an argument for "best player on the board" at this point: Both have high offensive upsides, both are big and strong players. Both have played center— even ignoring the fact that the Wild need centers as a draft pick won't slot in, centermen are more valuable players than wingers.
With the fifteenth pick in the 2016 mock draft, the Minnesota Wild select Michael McLeod from the Mississauga Steelheads in the OHL.
McLeod is the 6'2", 184-pound center who has been "The Steelheads' go-to guy" according to the International Scouting Service. He racked up 61 points in 57 games with the Steelheads, and is a strong two-way player.
Wild fans have understandably grown weary of "two-way players" as it is often code for players who lack offensive ability. This is not the case with McLeod. ISS rates McLeod's offensive play as "very good," and lists Hockey IQ and positioning as two of his strongest assets. McLeod's value is not only in his ability to play on both sides of the puck, but the fact that he can be used in all situations; he is adept at killing penalties as well as with the man advantage, and is a dependable 5v5 player as well.
According to ISS director of scouting, McLeod's biggest weakness an inability to handle the game at a high speed. This does not reference his skating, which is rated as "elite," but rather simply that McLeod cannot execute the plays he wants at a high speed.
Frankly, that is to be expected, and bodes well for the 18-year-old. McLeod is still growing and developing physically and mentally; if he is thinking the game faster than he can play it, that's a good sign, because his speed and control will develop as his body and brain do.
Wild fans can think of this as the inverse-Mikael-Granlund. Granny has a lot of ability, but seems to take too long to process plays, while McLeod knows what he wants to do, but his body lags just behind his brain.
If you're not excited yet, consider that ISS compares McLeod's style to Ryan Kesler; I hate RK as much as anyone, but he's a pretty decent player, and his gritty style of play is something the Wild have lacked.
McLeod is a great combination of skill, intelligence, and size that make him a very valuable prospect.