Photo Credit: Darcy Finley

Ryan McLeod, Dmitry Kulikov shine in Edmonton Oilers debuts

Beyond the norm of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl being superstars as they were last night, there were a few other big storylines following the team.

Ryan McLeod played in his first NHL game, as trade deadline acquisition Dmitry Kulikov made his Oilers debut. Neither player disappointed.

Kulikov looked exactly as advertised: a big body who is not only strong in his own zone, but has the ability to transport the puck out the defensive zone.

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And McLeod? Well, he sure didn’t look like he was playing in his first NHL game. He was calm, cool and collected in a night he won’t soon forget.

“Dream come true. It was a lot of fun out there,” said McLeod, whose gap-toothed smile hearkens back to a young Bobby Clarke. “Glad to get the win. It was a really good game, and it was a lot of fun out there.”

He got to keep the game puck after the whistle when a referee brought it to him, a momento he’ll surely cherish for the rest of his life.

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His numbers weren’t tremendous with the Oilers controlling only 42.31 percent of the shot attempts and 44.87 percent of the expected goals at 5×5 with him on the ice, but he did a lot of things right on the ice.

He drew a penalty on his third shift and made smart plays all night long. He never panicked with the puck on or off his stick, and he knew right where to be to make plays.

“Solid in all areas. he plays a strong game. he protects the puck well, he transports the puck well,” said Tippett of good speed and he’s smart, he’s really smart. he’s in position, he doesn’t get chasing things around.”

It led to Tippett having faith in the rookie early on. He didn’t try and match lines with him, instead let him go out and experience the game. Sure, the Oilers holding a strong lead throughout the net allowed McLeod to really get his feet under him, but he looked good doing so.

He won 2/2 faceoffs against Pierre-Luc Dubois and went 1/2 against Paul Stastny, while losing his only draw against Mathieu Perrault. He got ice-time against the Jets’ big guns in Kyle Connor, Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele, and held his own.

“He thinks the game well, and it’s a good start,” said Tippett. “I didn’t keep him away from anybody. he was a big part of the game. sometimes it’s hard that first game. sometimes you have the jitters but he looked really calm…

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“I think it helps he has brothers in there. The guys were really good with him. The line was solid, it was a good start for him.”

McLeod has surely earned himself another look Wednesday, as has Kulikov.

The Russian defender played 18:23 in all situations with 1:22 coming shorthanded. He landed four hits, had one shot on goal, and the Oilers controlled 65.62 percent of the shot attempts and 70.78 percent of the expected goals at 5×5 with him on the ice.

“He’s got some skill, he’s not just a pure defender,” said Tippett. “He moves the puck, he shoots the puck well. He’s weighted more on the defending side, which is good.”

On a pairing with Adam Larsson at 5×5, the Oilers controlled 67.86 percent of the shot attempts and 78.43 percent of the expected goals, by far the best in the game.

The additional depth of Kulikov and the strong, albeit wildly early, showing from McLeod gives Tippett a good problem — depth. Kulikov looked solid beside Larsson and I would keep that pair together.

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As for McLeod, I’d much rather see him with players that have more offensive moxie than Devin Shore and Josh Archibald. A guy like Tyler Ennis, or even Alex Chiasson, could serve well alongside him.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at [email protected]