Tampa Bay Lightning defense prospect Johnathan MacLeod was voted Most Improved Player by his teammates at Boston University.
Most Improved Player: John MacLeod pic.twitter.com/pvYBwxD7f1— BU Men's Hockey (@TerrierHockey) April 15, 2017
MacLeod was a 2014 second-round draft pick by the Lightning out of the U.S. National Team Development Program. He was billed as a defenseman with good size and physical abilities. The biggest area of development was for the mental side of his game to catch up to his physical gifts.
After a solid freshman season that included a trip to the Frozen Four and a loss in the National Championship game, MacLeod struggled in his sophomore season. He was scratched at times and his offense dropped off to an almost non-existent level. He’s definitely not what you’d call an offensive defenseman, he’s more of a stay-at-home type. He did manage nine points in his freshman season which dropped to just two points in his sophomore campaign.
This season, MacLeod bounced back to put up eight points including two goals. He was still scratched at times because BU had a logjam at defense. But when he got into the lineup, he earned his spot. While still prone to taking penalties, he has cut his penalties down from his freshman season where he averaged just over a minute and a half of PIM per game. Over the past two years he’s cut it down to right around a minute per game.
The quality of his penalties this year was also an improvement. He took fewer stupid penalties and was more in control of his physicality throughout games. In his first two seasons, he was prone to crunching someone into the boards unnecessarily. While his penalties didn’t drop much this year, they tended to be smarter or more necessary such as to prevent a breakaway.
The fact that MacLeod’s teammates voted for this award should be a good sign for the steps he’s taken. After last season, I had my doubts that he would improve enough to earn a contract from the Lightning. With this bounce back year, there was some speculation right after his season ended that he might leave school with a year of eligibility left. It doesn’t appear that that will be the case and he’ll head back to BU for his senior season.
With another year of development, and hopefully playing more minutes as a senior, MacLeod is looking more like he can fulfill his potential. He’s probably not a top-four defenseman in the NHL, but he does fit the mold of what Steve Yzerman has been looking for more recently in his defenders. Smart positionally, takes care of the defensive end first, and steady on the puck. He will need some time in the AHL before making it to the NHL to adjust to the professional game.
Look for him to make it to the NHL as a third pair defensemen in two to three seasons if his developmental trajectory remains steady.