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Devils' Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian on same path

Junior teammates hope to stick together, one day thrill fans in New Jersey

by Mike G. Morreale @MikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- It's not often junior-hockey linemates have a chance to play together in the NHL.

Center Michael McLeod and right wing Nathan Bastian of Mississauga of the Ontario Hockey League could have that opportunity after they were chosen by the New Jersey Devils at the 2016 NHL Draft.

"After I was drafted I talked to [New] Jersey and asked if they were going to take Nathan, and they said, 'We'll see,'" said McLeod, who was selected with the No. 12 pick. "On the second day of the draft we were counting down the picks and then New Jersey was up and selected [Bastian at No. 41]. It was crazy because me and Nathan are really good friends.

"We played on the same line the last two years and it's been a good journey with him. If we get the chance to play in the NHL together, that would be something."

McLeod and Bastian, each 18, were on the ice together again at Devils development camp at Barnabas Health Hockey House at Prudential Center. Among their highlights was McLeod scoring the decisive goal in a shootout to lead Team Scott Stevens to a victory in the four-team 3-on-3 tournament on the second day of camp.

It wasn't by design or plan, but simply coincidence that McLeod and Bastian happened to fall where they were drafted by the Devils.

"From all accounts, their chemistry starts with their friendship off the ice," NHL Central Scouting's Matt Ryan said. "Their trust and mutual respect that they have for each other, along with their respective skill sets, allows them to play an unselfish and creative brand of hockey. Michael utilizes his speed and skill to create time and space for himself, and Nathan has the skill and physical attributes to get to open areas, which allows both of them to create offense."

The Devils traded the No. 11 pick to the Ottawa Senators for the No. 12 pick and an additional third-round choice (No. 80, center Brandon Gignac) during the first round of the draft June 24. The Senators selected center Logan Brown of Windsor (OHL) at No. 11.

The comparisons between McLeod and Brown surely will take shape once they reach the NHL.

"I thought the Devils liked me, and once they traded down I thought something was going on," McLeod said. "I do think down the road me and Logan Brown will probably be compared. People will want to know who panned out better."

Bastian scored twice and McLeod had a goal in a scrimmage Saturday. McLeod left the game reportedly for precautionary reasons after taking a hit in the second period.

McLeod and Bastian will attend Devils training camp in September but likely will return to Mississauga for a third season. However, it's doubtful they'll be linemates again. McLeod, who will serve as captain, will center the top line, and Bastian likely will center the second line.

"Mike is easy to play with and always pushing the pace," Bastian said. "I just have to be good in my own end and along the wall, get the puck to him and he does the rest. He opens up so much space for linemates."

McLeod, a 6-foot-2, 188-pound forward, was second on Mississauga with 21 goals and 61 points, and he won 58.0 percent of his faceoffs in 57 OHL games last season. He also had nine points in seven OHL playoff games.

"The way McLeod plays, he's such a fast, energetic player," Devils director of amateur scouting Paul Castron said. "I told [coach] John Hynes that McLeod is a coach's dream. He never takes a shift off and plays both ends of the ice. Has a good skill package to go with it.

"I'm not saying he's going to make the team this year, but he's going to open some eyes when he gets with the big boys [in training camp] because of the speed he brings to the game."

Bastian (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) finished third on Mississauga in assists (40) and points (59) in 64 games. He had five power-play goals, 22 power-play points and won 46.5 percent of his faceoffs.

"McLeod and Bastian are high-possession players who compete extremely hard and are known for their work at both ends of the ice," Ryan said. "If they continue on their current development path, New Jersey fans should have a tandem that will be exciting to watch for many years to come."

On a line with McLeod and left wing Alexander Nylander, chosen No. 8 by the Buffalo Sabres at the 2016 draft, Bastian learned how to become an effective playmaker by doing much of the grunt work.

"In junior the team leaned on me and Mike a lot so I have to be the whole package," Bastian said. "I have to be able to play against the top guys. If I'm not producing, we might be in trouble. Obviously there are a lot of things I need to work on, including my skating.

"I've been [working] harder in the gym this summer than at any other time because I think it's important to show [the Devils] how much better I've gotten and how much better I feel."

Castron has seen a difference.

"His skating looks even better now than when I watched him in Mississauga," Castron said.

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