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'Super Buddies' McLeod, Bastian look to make mark with Devils

Forward prospects, Mississauga teammates aiming to share future in New Jersey

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

New Jersey Devils forward prospects Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian have a lot more in common than being two top prospects working their way up the development ladder.

They also know how to make life easier on their equipment manager by using the same custom stick as teammates with Mississauga in the Ontario Hockey League.

Other Mississauga players had sticks personalized with a stamp of their last name. But McLeod and Bastian shared the same stick measurements, so theirs were stamped with "Super Buddies," a label given to them by Tom Frater, Mississauga's equipment manager.

"Me and [McLeod] used the exact same stick, curve, shot, grip, everything," Bastian said. "So instead of making two different orders of the same stick, [Frater] just had the 'Super Buddies' mark stamped on our sticks and we just took out of the same pile."

Tweet from @SteelheadsEq: Who's twigs are these? @14Nbast @MikeyMcLeod9 #newstupercyrileybrace #nogibby

Frater, who has been equipment manager in Mississauga since 2009, said Bastian moved up five flex points to match McLeod's curve after the latter began a scoring surge during the 2015-16 season.

Bastian and McLeod, each 19, weren't using identical sticks during Devils development camp last week, but the "Super Buddies" nickname still suits them because they could one day be linemates for New Jersey.

McLeod, the 12th pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, might be closer to earning a roster spot at this stage.

"He's the real deal," Bastian said of McLeod. "You could tell after his participation for Canada at the [2017 IIHF] World Junior Championship that he took another step. No one could really stop him in the second half and he was lights-out in OHL playoffs."

McLeod had 73 points (27 goals, 46 assists) in 57 regular-season games, and led Mississauga with 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) in 20 playoff games in his third OHL season. He also had three points (two goals, one assist) in seven games to help Canada win the silver medal at the 2017 WJC.

"I think I feel like I'm [NHL] ready," McLeod said. "I've put on weight, have gotten faster and my shot has gotten a lot better. I feel like I've figured out the OHL. I'm hoping I could get to the NHL as soon as I can."

He appeared much stronger and faster during his second stint at Devils development camp earlier this month. He's listed at 6-foot-2, 188 pounds but said he's put on 10 pounds, the result of six weeks of weight training during the offseason.

"I think he's a guy who can surprise because of his work ethic and speed; it's so impressive," Devils director of amateur scouting Paul Castron said. "Whether he makes the team will depend on how he processes things in training camp. If he looks like he can consistently make plays, compete at a high level and show that skill and top-end speed, who knows?"

Bastian (6-4, 205), a second-round pick (No. 41) in the 2016 draft, began last season at right wing but played center for much of the second half. He had 45 points (16 goals, 29 assists) in 58 regular-season games, and 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in 20 playoff games.

"He's good at both right wing and center," McLeod said of Bastian. "He's good down the middle and is able to use his speed more and is good on faceoffs. I liked playing with him when he was on wing in my draft year because he was so good at getting the puck off the boards and at protecting the puck."

Bastian knows he still has work to do before reaching the NHL.

"I think I need to be quicker and be able to get 200 feet up and down the ice faster in order to play center in the NHL," Bastian said. "I'm working on it. I'm gaining strength in the gym and on the ice, and that's the most important thing."

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