Photo credit:© Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan McLeod discusses playing wing and why he’s scoring
By Jason Gregor1 month ago
Ryan McLeod played left wing and centre in junior. When he played on the wing his older brother Micheal was his centreman. The younger McLeod has spent most of his time in the NHL at centre, but for the past few weeks he’s played left with Leon Draisaitl and Warren Foegele and he’s thriving with five goals and eight points in six games.
One noticeable change in McLeod’s game recently has been how often he’s been around the net and finding shots from the inner slot. “I think when it’s not going your way you are always searching for something,” said McLeod. “I think all you do is try to dumb it down and get to the hard areas. You look at most of the goals in the NHL getting scored, most are from around the net. I just gotta get to those areas, and they’re going in for me now.”
McLeod had nine inner slot shots in his first 28 games and had one goal on those nine shots. He has four inner slot shots in his past seven games, and four of his five goals have come from there. He is taking more shots overall as well. Kris Knoblauch mentioned how last game, McLeod took a sharp angle shot from the corner, when he thought the goalie was cheating. “He wasn’t trying those plays earlier this season,” said Knoblauch.
Going to the net is a phrase we hear often, mainly because it works. However, it is easier said than done. And it isn’t just about going to the net — you need to think when you get there.
“I’ve been finding that sometimes I’m spending my shift just in front of the net, which is good to have a guy there, but it’s not always the most effective thing because an opponent can just tie you up,” said McLeod. “You kind of have to get lost in front of the net. You got to move around, find different holes, find tendencies of where guys like to pass the puck to, and where they like to get open. I’ve been trying to watch clips and see how I can lose the D-man and get back to the front of the net in an effective way where I have a little more time with the puck.”
Confidence always is a factor, as we’ve seen McLeod hang on to the puck, slide around defenders and score some nice goals lately, and getting advice from Draisaitl has also helped. “Being elevated in the lineup you have more responsibility to help out on the offensive side,” said Mcleod “So his message to us is make plays, be confident with the puck, remember we’re good players. We’ve been trying to do that so hopefully it works, and we don’t have too many turnovers (laughs).”
Turnovers haven’t been a problem. Since they’ve been a line the McLeod-Draisaitl-Foegele trio have outscored opponents 9-3 at 5×5. Overall McLeod has outscored opponent 12-3 at 5×5. He hasn’t been sacrificing defence for offence, and if he returns to being the third line centre in the future, McLeod wants to maintain the mindset Draisaitl has encouraged him to play with: make plays. “That’s a big thing for me,” said McLeod. “Building that confidence, so when I’m slotted somewhere else or if it gets shaken up, I’m not going to change my game at all. I’m confident with how it’s going right now, and I need to play that way regardless of who I play with.”
Again, that is easier said than done, because so much of the game is mental, and reminding yourself to make plays. Many bottom six forwards carry the mindset to get pucks deep, and not get scored on. But great teams have bottom six forwards who contribute offensively regularly. McLeod and Foegele are doing that now, and while I don’t expect them to score eight and nine points at 5×5 respectively every six games, like they are now, McLeod has shown that he has the ability to contribute and produce offence.
WORKING ON SCORING SKILLS…
Nov 30, 2023; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan McLeod (71) skates away from Winnipeg Jets forward Gabriel Vilardi (13) during the second period at Canada Life Centre. Mandatory Credit: Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports
McLeod spoke about watching video and finding ways to get open and away from defenders. He’s only in his third NHL season and has lots to learn and room to grow. But he isn’t the only one wanting and learning to become a better goal scorer.
Zach Hyman signed a seven-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers in the summer of 2021. He’d been a regular top-six forward in Toronto for the three previous seasons, but the Maple Leafs felt they couldn’t afford him, and they let him test free agency. He signed with the Oilers on July 28th for seven years with an AAV of $5.5m. It has turned into one of the best bargain contracts in the NHL.
Hyman set a career high in goals (27) assists (27) and points his first season with the Oilers. He followed that up with 36 goals, 47 assists and 83 points last season. And this year he’s on pace to push for 50 goals. His previous high before joining the Oilers was 21. Some will say his success is due to playing with Connor McDavid, but I think that is only one factor, and not the main one for Hyman. We’ve seen many players play with McDavid, but not produce the number of goals we are seeing from Hyman.
Hyman has 22 goals in 34 games. He’s on pace for 52. He leads the NHL with 16 goals at 5×5 and Nathan MacKinnon is the only forward who has been on the ice for more goals scored (43) than Hyman’s 42. MacKinnon has played five more games. McDavid’s been on the ice for 34 goals at 5×5. It would be misleading to say Hyman’s success is mainly due to McDavid.
Hyman is a student of the game. He prides himself on working hard and finding ways to improve his scoring. He isn’t a shooter, at least not from distance. Hyman’s success comes from around the crease. He is tied with John Tavares for the most inner slot shots, 72, in the NHL. The next closest Oilers forwards is Evander Kane with 33. Hyman knows his best attributes, and he works diligently on trying to improve them.
“At practice some guys work on their shot, and they shoot from the slot or top of the circles, but when I work on my shot, I shoot from within five feet because that’s where I get the majority of my chances,” said Hyman. “I’ve always done that, and for me, I just looked at where do I shoot the puck the most and 95 per cent of the time it is within ten feet. I realized it’s not necessarily how hard you shoot. It’s where you place it, how you’re able to move the goalie, things like that. I just work on improving around the net and focus on finding loose pucks, and getting them up quick, or recognizing space around you and who’s there. I keep looking at finding ways to improve my chances to score.”
Hyman has a dogged work ethic in games, but that also bleeds into practices and video sessions. Scoring is an art. And it is important for players to work on what they do best. Hyman doesn’t work on his slapshot, or his outside shot very often, because he rarely uses that in games. He isn’t going to score from distance like Leon Draisaitl, Auston Matthews or David Pastrnak, but he doesn’t have to in order to be successful. He’s discovered what works for him and is trying to improve it every year. And the results prove it.
He’s gone from 21 goals, to 27 to 36 and this season he seems to be a lock to score at minimum 40 goals.
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