Late Sunday afternoon, the Edmonton Oilers recalled 21-year-old forward Ryan McLeod from the Bakersfield Condors to their taxi squad. This move was made a day after the club signed top prospect Dylan Holloway to an entry-level contract. McLeod is currently in his second AHL season, after starting the year off in Switzerland with EV Zug. After completing his mandatory seven-day quarantine, McLeod will look to join the Oilers taxi squad and work his way up the depth chart in order to play his first-ever NHL game. Let’s take a look at McLeod’s career since being drafted and how he could help improve an already strong Oilers squad.
McLeod was drafted 40th overall by Edmonton at the 2018 draft in Dallas. After many people expected him to be a mid to late first-round pick, McLeod unexpectedly fell out of the first round due to teams having concerns about his scoring ability. At the time, McLeod was expected to be a two-way bottom-six center who is good defensively and might chip in with the odd goal. He played with the Mississauga Steelheads during his draft year, producing 42 points in 68 games before catching fire in the playoffs with 20 points in 20 games. While the Steelheads marched to the OHL Final, McLeod cemented his status as one of, if not the fastest skaters in the draft featuring speedsters such as Quinn Hughes, Liam Foudy and Gregori Denisenko.
After being drafted, McLeod got an invite to the Oilers training camp at the start of the season and stunned teammates, coaches and media with his dynamic play and the fact that he could keep up with many of the Edmonton regulars. His intelligent, two-way play led him to be one of the final cuts at training camp, getting to play in all seven of the Oilers pre-season games as a part of the new “Kid Line” with Tyler Benson and Kailer Yamamoto.
After being sent back to major junior, McLeod was subsequently traded from the rebuilding Mississauga Steelheads to the Saginaw Spirit. McLeod’s torrid scoring pace actually went down after being placed on the second line in Saginaw. He finished the year with 24 points in 31 games with the Spirit and 38 points in 32 games with the Steelheads.
Off to the AHL
The Mississauga, ON native headed to the AHL to play for the Condors in the 2019-20 season after having another impressive training camp with the Oilers. McLeod had a rough introduction to pro hockey, spending most of the year in the bottom six and struggling to produce offense consistently. He ended up with 23 points in 56 games. If there was a positive to McLeod’s 2019-20 season, it would have been his dedication to playing a safe defensive game, as he showed his commitment to being a reliable player in his own end of the ice, winning 56% of his faceoffs, and being used on the penalty kill.
McLeod kicked off his 2020-21 campaign in Switzerland with EV Zug, playing 15 games on the second line, scoring 4 goals and 7 assists for 11 total points. He then headed to Bakersfield to kick off their season. He started on the second line but worked himself up to the first line featuring himself, Tyler Benson and Cooper Marody.
That line has been the top line in the AHL all season, with all three members being in the top five in league scoring, including 28 points in 28 games from McLeod. The 21-year-old showcased his electrifying speed this season, using his talent many times to fly past defensemen for goals. Despite having an offensive breakout season, McLeod has still kept up his fantastic defensive play, leading the league in plus/minus and getting daily reps on the penalty kill.
What Can We Expect From McLeod?
For one, head coach Dave Tippett said we could expect to see McLeod play his first NHL game next Wednesday or Thursday, either against the Winnipeg Jets or the Calgary Flames. Expect him to be placed in a bottom-six role, with limited special teams time. Adding speed and size could be huge come playoff time as having a fast scoring threat on all four lines makes match-up headaches for opposing teams. McLeod will have to earn his minutes, similar to how Kailer Yamamoto did last year.
Although it’s unlikely, it is possible that McLeod could have a similar impact to how Yamamoto did in the 2019-20 season. McLeod’s AHL production has been much better than the “Honey Badger’s” (1.00 P/G to .7 P/G), and he is bigger (6-foot-2 versus 5-foot-8), which may allow him to smoothly make the transition from AHL to NHL. If McLeod can keep up his offensive production while maintaining his secure defensive play, he could find himself in the lineup come playoff time.