Edmonton Oilers

Ryan McLeod is an excellent addition to the Edmonton Oilers’ lineup

Behind each successful season is a myriad of things that went right, some expected, others less so. Coming off a tumultuous, yet successful, season of their own, last season’s Oilers were no different.

Of course Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl brought their everyday excellence, as did a number of the Oilers’ key players. Some bright spots came via less expected means: a coaching change, a mid season addition or two, Evan Bouchard’s development, and Mike Smith’s play. Lost in the shuffle might well have been the arrival of Ryan McLeod.

Prior to last season, McLeod looked to be stalled atop the AHL depth chart, never scoring at high enough rates to force the Oilers’ hands into a call up. There were always the raw tools for McLeod to be an effective checker, but it was difficult to see if a regular NHL role was within reach.

In large part, McLeod’s season turning around came when Jay Woodcroft became head coach. With some residual trust from their extensive time together in the AHL, McLeod saw added opportunity. We saw quite a bit from McLeod last season, and time will tell how much he’s able to continue or even expand his influence on the game.

McLeod has potential to become the Oilers’ best defensive forward

At this point, McLeod is well on his way to crafting a sterling defensive resume. With a strong start to the season, McLeod has leveraged his skills into being worthy of consideration as the Oilers’ best defensive forward.

Foremost, the scouting report on McLeod starts with his physical talents. With size, strength, and most importantly strong skating skills, McLeod has all the makings of a true shutdown forward. The key will be for him to continue growing in his details, from reading the play to refining and growing his puck skills.

His speed allows him to forecheck, but McLeod is even more exceptional when it comes to defending in transition. Though speed is certainly useful, it is not the only thing required to be an effective backchecker. McLeod should be given credit for having a degree of physicality, an active stick, and strong responsible positional awareness.

As a centre and a key penalty killer, McLeod is already a valuable defensive player to the Oilers, but there are signs of other dimensions in his game.

Thanks again to his speed, McLeod can be an effective puck carrier in offensive transition. His speed can help the Oilers gain entry through the neutral zone, threatening the opponent’s defence enough to enter the offensive zone. It helps too, in this regard, that McLeod has a degree of playmaking ability.

Where does McLeod fit in the lineup?

The best we’ve seen of these offensive potentials is when McLeod finds himself on Draisaitl’s line. Draisaitl appreciates a bit of speed on his wing, a defensive presence, and a playmaker’s mind are nice fits as well. Whether as a give-and-go option or just as a streaking outlet to push the opposing team’s defenders back.

McLeod has enough vision, creativity, and a certain level of a pass-first mentality for Draisaitl to work with. Draisaitl’s quality as a trigger man unlocks a level of offensive viability in McLeod. The two might need a certain level of player to truly get the most out of Draisaitl. While Evander Kane might seem enough, another option might be worthwhile considering they bare some offensive upside.

McLeod is equally strong, if not more suited altogether, to centre a defensive checking line. Of late, he has been deployed as such with Jesse Puljujarvi and Warren Foegele on his wings. Both wingers represent strong options for McLeod, with Puljujarvi’s extensive defensive results in particular.

Forming a formidable third line, or a checking line to an extent, is crucial to a team’s success. Almost every contending team over the cap era has boasted such a unit, often adulated into the zeitgeist of an era, or given a moniker to the effect of the “identity line”. More so, with McDavid and Draisaitl headlining a slam dunk top-six, the Oilers’ ability to create a third line of such magnitude might be the most salient of storylines throughout the season.

On top of McLeod’s even-strength prowess, he is one of the top three penalty killing forwards in the Oilers’ lineup. The trio of McLeod, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Zach Hyman take the starring roles on the unit. However, it is possible that by the playoffs McLeod separates himself from the group.

Hovering close to 50% in faceoffs puts him well behind McDavid and Draisaitl, but ahead of RNH. Improving in this area, commonplace as centres age, will help McLeod gain trust in late game defensive situations, increasing his minutes.

McLeod has a bright future with the team

For these reasons, it’s equal parts unlikely and misguided to leave McLeod out of the Oilers’ top nine forwards. His versatility allows for the coaching staff to deploy Nugent-Hopkins freely. McLeod’s defensive abilities are a needed ingredient to the middle of the Oilers’ forward group.

Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire

Gregory Babinski

twitter: @axiomsofice

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