By being named most valuable player in the OHL Cup, Michael McLeod has placed himself in some rare company. But being surrounded by elite hockey players is not exactly foreign to him. All he has to do is look around his own house or step outside for a ball hockey game to be surrounded by special players.
Michael McLeod will likely be a top-five pick in the Ontario League draft after leading the Toronto Marlboros to the championship of the OHL Cup with two goals, including one shorthanded, in a 5-0 win over the Toronto Jr. Canadiens. McLeod finished second in tournament scoring with seven goals and 11 points in seven games. The OHL Cup is symbolic of minor midget supremacy in Ontario and has been a springboard for a number of NHL careers. Other winners of the MVP trophy include Steven Stamkos, Sam Gagner, Sean Monahan, Casey Cizikas and Connor McDavid.
“It really hasn’t sunk in yet,” McLeod said of being named MVP. “When you look at some of the other names on that trophy that I won, it’s just amazing. I can’t really believe it.”
McLeod comes from a family of elite hockey players. His older brother, Matthew, just accepted a scholarship at Canisius College for next season and his younger sibling, Ryan, is a 1999-born minor bantam who shared the OHL Cup with his brother as a call-up to the Marlboros minor midget team. Ryan McLeod figures to be a prominent player on next year’s Marlies minor midget team and figures to follow his older brother to the OHL.
And in a case of there-must-be-something-in-the-water, the McLeods grew up in the same Mississauga neighborhood as Ryan and Dylan Strome. Ryan, who went on to star in the OHL, scored 49 points in 37 games as a rookie in the American League before being called up by the New York Islanders and Dylan, who went second overall in the OHL draft in 2013, is playing with the Erie Otters.
“We used to play road hockey all the time,” Michael McLeod said of the Stromes. “We used to have huge battles. It was a great time.”
The Marlboros were dominant in the OHL Cup and vanquished the Canadiens, the team that defeated them in eight games in the Greater Toronto Hockey League final. Without their top two defensemen –Jakob Chychrun and Victor Mete – because of injuries, the Jr. Canadiens were top marks for getting as far in the tournament as they did. In fact, Chychrun and Mete are likely top-five picks and will almost certainly be the first two defensemen selected in the OHL draft.
The Marlboros have a bevy of OHL prospects aside from McLeod. Taylor Raddysh, who led the tournament in scoring with 5-9-14 totals in seven games, is also a sure-fire first rounder, with Cliff Pu and Reagan O’Grady as borderline first-rounders. Along with Chychrun and Mete on the Jr. Canadiens, captain Travis Barron will also likely go in the first round.
Chychrun is expected to compete with Adam Mascherin for No. 1 overall in the OHL draft. Mascherin, who scored four goals and seven points for the Vaughan Kings in the tournament, could end up going to the Sarnia Sting, who will select first overall. The thinking is that Mascherin has a better chance of being a four-year player in the OHL than Chychrun, a boy-man who could be the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft in 2016. There is also speculation that Chychrun would prefer to play for the Kitchener Rangers, who have the second overall choice.
Another top prospect for the OHL draft is Brandon Saigeon, who had four goals and nine points for the Hamilton Jr. Bulldogs.
Among all the fresh faces in the tournament was a very familiar one behind the Marlboros bench in Paul Coffey. The Hall of Famer has been coaching this group of players, which includes his son Blake, since they were nine years old. Rather than move up the coaching ranks, Coffey intends to now help coach his 11-year-old’s team.
“If I wanted to get into coaching and wanted to make a career out of it, I would have done it 10 years ago,” Coffey said. “It was important for me to be around my family and be around my boys so I could give them a little bit of what I had. From all the great coaches I had, some of them I liked and some of them I didn’t, you take from them. It’s funny, sometimes I catch myself in the dressing room talking to the kids and I go, ‘This sounds like Glen Sather.’ ”
As Coffey releases his players into the world after spending seven years with them, he knows a select few will go on to the NHL, some others will make a modest living playing the game, while others will parlay hockey into an education opportunity and, he hopes, have a lifelong love of the game
“It’s hard to project, but I do know one thing,” Coffey said. “They all need to get better. You can’t just be the best 12-year-old, you can’t just be the best 16-year-old. You want to be a good 17-year-old, a good 18-year-old and always getting better. We’ve got some good talent here, but you start playing OHL and the higher levels, the pool gets smaller. They’re good, but they’ve got to get better.”
Photo by: Aaron Bell, OHL Images
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.