Ryan McLeod’s Off-Season Goals: Shoot More and Be Physical
Photo credit:Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
By Jason Gregor7 days ago
The majority of the Edmonton Oilers’ improvement in 2024 will come internally. The leadership group outlined that if the team wants to win, the players need to play better defensively. “I think sometimes, as a team, for us we find a way to lose games and more so beat ourselves than the team actually beating us,” said Leon Draisaitl. That comment combined with thoughts from Connor McDavid, Mattias Ekholm and others made it clear what needs to happen if they win.
It won’t just be the leaders who need to improve. The depth players have to bring more, and after the Oilers’ top-five forwards, I’d argue Ryan McLeod is the most important forward and could become even more important before his contract expires.
McLeod is far from a finished product, but he has shown significant upside. He’s an elite skater. He’s excellent at transporting the puck. He’s shown consistent improvement in the face off dot. He has the size and smarts to be a solid third line centre on a contending team. There are a few areas he needs to improve, and we discussed that last week after the Oilers’ season ended.
How would he evaluate his season?
“It was tough to lose out,” said McLeod. “I had a couple of injuries during the year that kind of build and build and you take a step back. I was just happy to be healthy in the playoffs and kind of step up my game, be fully confident and I think that I just grew my game.”
McLeod missed 25 games due to injury this year. He had a great start with three goals in the first six games, but then he went goalless in 15 games. He picked up three assists and played his best game in weeks on November 26th in New York, but he was injured late in the game and missed one month. He returned to the lineup on December 23rd and went another seven games before scoring a goal. His goal drought reached 22 games between October 24th to January 9th.
He regained some confidence and proceeded to score seven goals in 12 games. He played well for the next month, and while he only scored one goal, his line kept outscoring the opposition. But he got injured again on March 14th vs. Ottawa, and missed almost another month before returning on April 11th. He didn’t score a goal in the playoffs, but overall, I felt he played quite well.
How did he view his playoff performance?
“I think I was being a lot more physical, which I think that I’ve been needing to do,” said McLeod. “It’s just one of those things that I’ve wanted to add to my game which is going to make me tougher to play against. That was a big thing for me and I’m going to try through the summer to use my body more to be more successful at that.”
He trains with his brother, Michael, who plays for New Jersey in the off-season. Michael is a more physical player and the younger McLeod expects to work on becoming more comfortable playing physically when they train.
“We go at it pretty hard, so hopefully a couple of good battles this summer,” smiled McLeod. “We can both work on some things and come back and both look pretty good. It’s an exciting summer coming.”
May 4, 2022; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal by forward Ryan McLeod (71) during the second period against Los Angeles Kings in game two of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
McLeod needs to shoot more. He didn’t register a shot in seven of the 12 playoff games. He didn’t have a shot in 15 regular season games, and he had one in 19 others. In 59.6% of his games, he had one or fewer shots on goal. It is difficult to score when you don’t put puck on net.
“Obviously, I want to score goals, it’s a tough thing to do,” said McLeod. “During the summer I’m in the gym a lot, we have a good shooting pad there. I shoot a lot of pucks and work on that mechanics. I think that it’s probably the area of my game that I’m looking forward to improving the most and I will this summer.”
Shooting pucks daily is one way to improve, but how else can he inherit more of a shooter mentality?
“I think the start is having the mindset to be a shooter,” said McLeod. “You can work on volume and mechanics and all that stuff, but often it is just the confidence to shoot it. I think once you start scoring goals, for whatever reason it just happens easier, and pucks start going in more. So, just getting that mindset is what I want to focus on.”
McLeod has tasted playoff success the past two seasons, and he’s endured disappointing losses as well. He’s very young and only turns 24 in September. He believes he, and the team, have much more to give.
“I think I’m of scratching at the door now of my potential and I think with a big off-season and just a few little tweaks, we’ll be there,” McLeod said. “It’s exciting, I think I have a lot more I can show in the game, so I’m excited to have an offseason to work on it and come back better in the fall.”
The one main difference this off-season is he won’t have to wait until the day before training camp to have a deal. He is eligible for arbitration, and he will file for it or sign a deal before the June deadline. You don’t want to worry all summer about your contract. Even though he knew he’d sign, it wasn’t an ideal situation.
“It was pretty frustrating coming into camp last year when you’re coming in the day of camp without having signed,” he said. ” Obviously, I don’t want to be in that situation again and whatever, but yeah, it’s nice to have that stability and hopefully it’s going to be done quickly, so that I can come in with a fresh mind.”
McLeod’s contract likely will be a two- or three-year deal. If it is three years his AAV will be higher, possibly in the $2-$2.5m range, while a two-year deal will be slightly lower. He produced 11-12-23 in 57 games which prorates to 16 goals and 33 points. He also plays centre and kills penalties and is on the second PP unit, albeit they play limited minutes.
He is an important depth piece for the organization as they remain a legitimate Stanley Cup contender for the foreseeable future.
The team needs to improve defensively. They need to reduce their glaring errors, but they also need their younger players to continue improving. McLeod wants to shoot more and build on using his speed and size to be more physical. He only had 40 hits in 57 regular season games, but he had 26 hits in 12 playoff games. In the regular season, he was 9th among regular forwards, with a 2.96 hits/60, but in the playoffs, he jumped up to 6th at 8.90 hits/60.
Being more tenacious and aggressive on the forecheck will lead to more turnovers. He has the speed to make opposing D-men uncomfortable on the forecheck as much as he does off the rush, and his play in the playoffs are a glimpse of what he’s capable of more regularly.
He is the depth forward I’m most interested in seeing when Edmonton returns in the fall because I think he has the most upside and untapped potential.
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