When you watch Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan McLeod on the ice, the biggest thing that sticks out to you is his effortless skating stride. His top-end speed, edge work, and agility rank up there with some of the best on the team. Raise your hand if you’ve ever mistaken him for Connor McDavid because, with the way he jets around the ice, I know I have.
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McLeod showed signs of his potential last season when he was recalled in November of last season, but he hit his stride when head coach Jay Woodcroft took over behind the bench three months later. He also displayed the ability to withstand the difficulties of a lengthy postseason run, and in his second full NHL season, he’s showing no signs of a sophomore slump. He’s scored a goal in half the games he’s played this season, but what’s apparent is his newfound confidence in his offensive game to go along with his unmatched speed.
McLeod Continues to Progress
The former second-round pick from the 2018 NHL draft finished the 2021-22 campaign with nine goals and 12 assists in 71 regular season games. But McLeod took a big step in last season’s playoffs, recording three goals and an assist in 16 games. He also scored the game-tying goal in Game 3 in the Western Conference Final against the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Colorado Avalanche.
So far this season, the emerging forward has scored three goals in six games, and I recently wrote in another article about how I feel he should remain the team’s third-line center moving forward. The Oilers started the season with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as their third-line center, switched him to the wing, and moved McLeod to the 3C spot against the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 20. The switch worked wonders for both players — Nugent-Hopkins recorded a four-point night, and McLeod scored a stellar shorthanded goal, which was his second of the season. He also finished plus-1 while recording excellent analytic numbers, including a 57.08 expected goals percentage (xGF%), 60 high-danger chance percentage (HDCF%), and 100 goals for percentage (GF%).
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His skating is so fluid, which enables him to transport the puck up with ease up the ice. But it’s such an asset defensively as well because his speed also allows him to be the first forward back to defend. On that note, the young McLeod continued his steady play as the third-line centerman against the St. Louis Blues. The Oilers were shut out by the Blues on Oct. 22, so McLeod didn’t register a point, but he and his linemates Warren Foegele and Jesse Puljujarvi pushed the pace all night. And according to Natural Stat Trick, McLeod continued the trend of solid analytics, when he posted a 72.73 Corsi (CF%), 62.11 xGF%, and 60 HDCF%.
McLeod’s on His Way to Becoming a Scoring Threat
On Oct. 23, the Oilers rallied from behind to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-3, and it was McLeod who sealed the deal for Edmonton, scoring the sixth goal at 16:45 of the third period. Derek Ryan made a wonderful drop pass to McLeod, who walked in and buried the puck low blocker on goaltender Tristan Jarry. Aside from that, there were a couple of things that stood out on the goal. One is the way he scored, as he skated in and buried the puck with assertiveness — there wasn’t any panic, and he just looked so confident on the play. The second is that he’s displaying his ability to finish in prime scoring opportunities.
The Oilers once had a speed demon in the 90s, Todd Marchant, that would get breakaway after breakaway, and for the most part (aside from his game-winning goal in Game 7 against the Dallas Stars, of course), he had trouble burying the puck on his breakaway opportunities. In contrast, in only his second season, early signs show that McLeod is figuring out how to match his hands with his speed. Former NHL player and Oilers’ hockey analyst Rob Brown spoke of McLeod’s play on the “Inside Sports with Reid Wilkins” show after the game with the Penguins. He said, “You can’t teach speed, but you certainly can teach how to score a bit better, and I think he’s found out how to do that.” Brown also added:
“Pavel Bure, when he first broke into the league, he had breakaway after breakaway after breakaway and never scored. And it takes a while to learn how to score in the National Hockey League. Now I don’t think Ryan McLeod is going to be Bure, because Bure was a superstar, but Ryan McLeod is going to get chances because of his speed. He creates them on his own, and he’s got teammates like (Derek) Ryan that created a chance for him and now he’s learning how to score at this level.”Rob Brown
The Oilers signed McLeod to a bargain contract this past offseason — a one-year extension worth $798,000. He likely won’t be able to continue the 40-goal pace this season he’s currently on, but if he continues to produce offence while providing stability at the 3C position, he’s most certainly going to cash in when he negotiates his next contract in the offseason.
McLeod’s early signs of scoring ability provide the Oilers with much-needed secondary scoring, especially when their big guns aren’t able to get on the board. He currently has a shooting percentage of 60, which is not sustainable throughout the season, but a 20-goal campaign for the 23-year-old isn’t out of the question.
How many goals do you think McLeod will score this season? Have your say in the comments below!
He’s the first ever Ultimate MVP fan of the NHL as declared by Upperdeck – He’s been featured on CBC Radio providing hockey analysis for the Edmonton Oilers – He’s a freelance writer and Edmonton Oilers’ Sportswriter for the Hockey Writers.