Ryan McLeod is a difficult prospect to place. He’s also somewhat frustrating.
When it comes to McLeod, the question isn’t so much if he’ll be an NHL player one day, it’s more when he will be and where he’ll fit on the roster.
He’s a big, strong, smart centre with incredible skating ability. A package like that makes it very likely that you can carve out a career in the NHL. But the thing with McLeod is that, despite the skillet, his production in both the OHL and AHL indicates a player who will never be quite as good as they could be.
That’s what makes him so difficult to place and so frustrating. Does McLeod look like a future NHLer? Absolutely. Does he look like a game-changer? Unfortunately not.
Date of Birth: July 21, 1999
Drafted: 2018, No. 40 overall (EDM)
Height: 6’3″ / 191 cm
Weight: 201 lbs / 91 kg
The Oilers took McLeod with their second-round pick in the 2018 draft, No. 40 overall.
In his rookie season with the Mississauga Steelheads, McLeod scored seven goals and 20 points. In his second season, he scored nine goals and 42 points in 68 games and then broke out for 20 points in 20 playoff games.
Had McLeod been born a few days earlier, he would have been eligible for the 2017 draft. Instead, he got to play one more season in the OHL before going into the draft. In McLeod’s third go-around in the OHL, he put up 26 goals and 70 points, far and away the best production of his career.
After that showing, McLeod appeared poised for a huge final season in the OHL. That didn’t happen. He scored 38 points in 32 games with the Steelheads before getting traded to Saginaw where he posted 24 points in 31 games and 12 points in 17 playoff games.
McLeod’s lacklustre production continued the following season as he graduated to the professional ranks. In his first pro season with the Bakersfield Condors, McLeod scored five goals and 23 points over 56 games, a much lower rookie showing than we saw a couple of years earlier from Tyler Benson and Cooper Marody.
Heading into the draft, the word on McLeod was that he projected to become a bottom-six forward, though his skillset ultimately gives up the upside of becoming a Ryan Kesler-type second-line centre. Here’s what the International Scouting Service had to say back in 2018…
“High end skater and shows ability to accelerate through the neutral zone. Hands are good with ability to release shot in stride. Backcheck and forecheck effort inconsistent. Projects as a third line checking winger at NHL level.”
Based on his post-draft production in the OHL and his production in the AHL, that seems pretty much spot-on.
McLeod has a very clear path to the NHL with the Oilers, an organization that has started to really value speedy forwards since Ken Holland and Dave Tippett took over.
If injuries necessitate, he could be the first guy called up to give the Oilers some speed on the wings in the bottom-six. By 2021-22, McLeod should step in and be the team’s fourth-line centre. Kyle Turris is signed for two seasons, but, if all goes well, the third-line centre position could be McLeod’s by the time that deal expires. At worst, you’re looking at an effective fourth-line winger with the talent to move up the lineup.
Will McLeod become more than that? Based on his production, it doesn’t seem like it. McLeod has the skating to keep up with Connor McDavid, but he doesn’t appear to have the finishing ability. A knock on McLeod’s game is that he doesn’t go into the dirty areas, which won’t work for a McDavid linemate as he needs players who are good at puck retrieval and who aren’t afraid to crash the net.
Now, I know this all sounds a bit negative, but that isn’t what I’m going for here. There’s nothing wrong with internally developing good, bottom-six players who have speed, can kill penalties, and do a lot of little things very well. But when you consider his smarts, wheels, and size, it’s hard not to dream about McLeod becoming something along the lines of Ryan Kesler, or, more conservatively, a mid-2000s Shawn Horcoff.
At this point, based on his production, it doesn’t look like McLeod will become that player. The tools are all there, but something seems to be missing.
For reference, players who I consider to be “prospects” for this countdown are skaters who have played fewer than 50 NHL games and goaltenders who have played fewer than 25 NHL games. I’m basing the rankings on a combination of upside and the likelihood of reaching that potential.