Ryan McLeod suited up in 10 regular-season games and four playoff games for the Edmonton Oilers last year, but he was only able to produce a single assist. His offensive game lacked, but in each showing you could see his speed and potential were there, making it easy to see why he was selected 40th overall in the 2018 NHL Draft.
Coming into this season, it appeared the third- or fourth-line centre role was his spot to lose. He played in six preseason games and he would make the team out of camp. However, he only played in two regular-season games to start the year and only averaged 5:51 average time on ice (TOI). At 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds, he didn’t use his size to his advantage and was too tentative with his decisions with the puck. As a result, he was sent down to the Bakersfield Condors of the American Hockey League (AHL).
When Devin Shore was placed on the injured reserve list, it opened up a new opportunity for McLeod. He was recalled to the team on Nov. 8 and since then his game has grown. He’s scoring, using his speed to generate chances and starting to look like the third-line centre the team hoped he could become.
Mcleod’s Path to the NHL
In McLeod’s draft year, he produced 70 points in 68 games for the Mississauga Steelheads of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). He was expected to be a mid to late first-round draft pick in 2018, but he fell to the Oilers — his childhood favourite team — in the 40th spot due to concerns about his scoring ability.
Since starting his professional hockey career in 2019, he has increased his point production each year. In 2019-20 he played with the Condors and produced 23 points in 56 games. He started the 2020-21 season in Switzerland with EV Zug, producing a modest 11 points in 15 games, before heading to Bakersfield to start the AHL season.
His offensive game would increase when he centered a line between Tyler Benson and Cooper Marody and the trio would become a consistent offensive threat. The season was shortened due to Covid-19, but in 28 games, McLeod produced 14 goals and 14 assists before his call-up to the Oilers.
McLeod Is Finding His Offensive Game in the NHL
When McLeod was recalled this year, he was tasked with centering the fourth line, but eventually worked his way up to manning the third between Warren Foegele and Zack Kassian. The third line had a good start to the year with Derek Ryan as the centre, but their effectiveness had slowed down as of late. With McLeod down the middle, the line has seen a sudden resurgence.
In a back-and-forth game against the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 14, McLeod scored his first NHL goal, when he zipped a backhand shot over the shoulder of goaltender Jordan Binnington. Thereafter, No. 71 described his goal, “growing up you dream of getting your first (goal) and it was really a dream come true getting that today.” It’s fascinating what scoring can do for one’s confidence because since then he’s been more assertive with the puck and playing with conviction.
In a game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 20, he centered Foegele and Kassian once again, with the third line producing it’s most effective outing for the Oilers thus far. They created chaos all game, combining for six hits and five shots on net, and in the first period, McLeod scored his second career goal. By the seeing eye test, it seems the game is slowing down for the former Mississauga Steelhead. He started off the play by passing the puck to Philip Broberg, slid into the slot and instead of immediately shooting the puck off Foegele’s pass, he had the poise and awareness to make a little backhand move, to beat the Blackhawk’s goaltender Kevin Lankinen.
His confident play continued against the Dallas Stars. He carried the puck out of the defensive zone with his head up all night and made crisp passes to the open man. In the second period with the Oilers down by three, McLeod finished a two-on-one play off a Leon Draisaitl saucer pass, beating goaltender Jake Oettinger. He finished the night winning 60% of his faceoffs (FO%) and its clear head coach Dave Tippett is trusting him more in crucial situations, as he’s been given more responsibility to take defensive zone draws.
It’s still early in McLeod’s career, but getting his first NHL goal out of the way has unlocked his offensive potential and his presence has energized his linemates. He has a long journey ahead of him, but if he continues this style of play, he’ll become a mainstay as a third-line centre, right behind Draisaitl and Connor McDavid.
First ever Ultimate MVP fan of the NHL as declared by Upperdeck – CBC Radio Oilers’ Fan Panel Analyst – Freelance Writer. Edmonton Oilers’ Sportswriter for the Hockey Writers.