Why Ryan McLeod will be an important player for the Oilers moving forward

Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
1 year ago
On Thursday, the Edmonton Oilers finally signed restricted free agent Ryan McLeod. Both sides agreed to a one-year contract with a $798K AAV.
The deal comes as Edmonton is currently in a tight cap situation. McLeod’s contract leaves Edmonton with a total of just $165 (not $165,000, but just $165, you read that right) in available cap space.
It’s obviously a quite low AAV for McLeod, who had little leverage in this situation. After playing a considerable amount of games in both the NHL and AHL in 2020-21, McLeod established himself as an NHL player this season, playing 71 regular-season games and 16 playoff games. 
Edmonton has not experienced a ton of success when it comes to drafting outside of the first round in the past decade. Not a single one of Edmonton’s second-round picks since 2011 has played over 70 NHL GP.
Of course, the exception to that is Ryan McLeod, who was drafted 40th overall in the 2nd round of the 2018 NHL Draft. He looks to break their streak of underachieving second-round draft picks, as I believe he will be an important player for Edmonton this upcoming season.

A look at Ryan McLeod’s strong defensive abilities

Here’s a look at McLeod’s defensive results, using on-ice results and microstats.
McLeod ranks in the 86th percentile among NHL forwards in suppressing and preventing scoring chances against at even-strength. Of course, his quality of competition isn’t very strong, but it’s an encouraging sign for a young forward such as him. 
In regards to actual goals against, Jesse Puljujarvi has been Edmonton’s best forward at suppressing goals, at a rate of merely 1.8 goals against/60. McLeod ranks 3rd on Edmonton, at 2.1 GA/60. To dive deeper into how and why McLeod obtains these metrics, there are several factors.
Firstly, he’s a strong forechecker. McLeod’s forecheck pressures per hour ranks in the 78th percentile, largely due to how he excels at disrupting zone exits. He’s good at pressuring opposing defenders, forcing turnovers, and pinning the puck in the offensive time, which consequently results in less time spent in the defensive zone. This likely plays a major role in his strong possession stats, as he posted a solid 53.7% CF% despite playing the majority of his time in the bottom-six.
To add on, he’s superb at zone exits. McLeod is an exceedingly responsible defensive player and is proficient at managing the puck in his own zone. Furthermore, another primary strength for McLeod is his puck retrieval ability.
This season, Connor McDavid led the entire league in Defensive Zone Retrievals leading to Zone Exits/60, at 10.28. As I wrote in this article, his defensive game has significantly evolved. Aleksander Barkov is at 9.82 Retrievals leading to Exits/60, and he ranks 2nd. Jack Hughes is 4th (9.43) and Ryan O’Reilly is 5th (9.35). It’s safe to say that all of them are responsible two-way players.
But who ranked third place this season?
None other than Ryan McLeod, who ended the season at 9.68. McLeod ranks top 20 in the league in overall DZ Retrievals/60 as well. 
Alongside his encouraging 5v5 results, McLeod is a superb penalty-killer. McLeod ranks in the 92nd percentile in suppressing scoring chances on the penalty-kill. 
One thing I especially find baffling is how seldom former coach Dave Tippett utilized him on the PK; under Tippett, McLeod didn’t even play a total of five short-handed minutes. 
Under Woodcroft? McLeod has played nearly 74 shorthanded minutes in 39 games and has averaged roughly 1:54 PK TOI per game. In those minutes, he was arguably Edmonton’s best forward penalty-killer. 
Overall, essentially every metric that’s publicly available suggests that McLeod’s primary strength is his tremendous defensive abilities. Typically, you tend to see younger forwards struggle in their own end early on in their career, and yet at age 23, McLeod’s defensive results are exceptional. 

What about his offensive results at the NHL level so far?

However, McLeod still has a lot to offer on the offensive end. 
He ranks near the bottom of the team in on-ice Goals and Expected Goals/60, and produced 1.29 5v5 points per hour, ranking 272nd out of 352 forwards with a minimum of 600 TOI. 
Of course, a large factor for his substandard results is the cause of poor linemate quality, but there isn’t enough evidence anywhere to suggest that he’s strong on the offensive end.
He’s above average on the cycle. He ranks in the 61st percentile in Assists off the Cycle, but his high-danger passes are merely in the 14th percentile. At least at the NHL level, he hasn’t excelled at finding his linemates in high-danger areas around the front of the net or in the slot. I think McLeod has nice hands, and his assist totals were quite high in lower leagues, but it’s obvious his play-making hasn’t fully developed yet.
I think another facet McLeod can especially improve in is simply shooting the puck more. I feel that there have been several instances this season where McLeod had a prime opportunity for a scoring chance, but neglected to shoot it. McLeod’s EV shots/60 merely ranks in the 13th percentile. Will he ever be a strong finisher? I’m quite uncertain, but I would still like to see him shoot more.
With all of this said, McLeod does have some offensive strengths, particularly in transition. Here’s a look at each forward’s total controlled zone entries and zone exits per hour.
McLeod ranked 4th among Edmonton forward in controlled zone entries per hour, and 2nd in controlled exits, finishing higher than even Draisaitl (!).
It’s evident how good of a skater McLeod is. Ever since he was drafted, he was praised for exceptional and fluid skating abilities, which are significant reasons for his superb transitional results. He’s quite creative with the puck, and consistently forces opposing defenders back with bursts of speed. Without a doubt, he’s one of the most efficient puck-movers on the team.
Out of all available microstats (entries, exits, shot assists, forecheck pressures, etc), the microstats that are best at predicting future offence are controlled zone entries and controlled zone exits, areas that McLeod thrives in. Definitely, something to keep in mind.

Final Thoughts

Jun 2, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Ryan McLeod (71) controls the puck in the second period against the Colorado Avalanche in game two of the Western Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
McLeod may not produce at high rates, and his offensive ceiling isn’t exceptionally high. With McDavid and Draisaitl on the roster, he’ll likely spend a significant amount of time at 3C. However, all of this means that he’ll never cost a ton. Combine this with the fact that McLeod is already a strong defensive presence with proficient possession results and excellent transition results at just age 23.
To me, that certainly seems like a player to sign to a long-term contract. I don’t see a ton of risk in doing so.
With several LWs on the roster (Kane, Hyman, Foegele, Holloway, Shore), alongside the fact that RNH and McLeod can play LW, I don’t entirely understand why Edmonton signed Mattias Janmark. The team could have used the $1.25M they used to sign him by granting McLeod a higher AAV and more term.
McLeod has a legitimate chance of breaking out offensively this season, which will result in a higher cap-hit next season. This will be unideal for Edmonton, as Evan Bouchard requires a contract next off-season.
Something to note: looking through his career history, it seems like McLeod never made an immediate impact on offence in any league he’s played in. Per HockeyDB, he had just 20 points in 62 OHL games in 2015-16. The next season, he improved to 42 points in 68 games, and in 17-18, he had 26 goals and 70 points in 68 games. 
His first year in Bakersfield was underwhelming in the offensive end, with just 5 goals and 23 points in 56 games in 2019-20, which didn’t even equate to a PPG pace of 0.5. 
However, the next season, he posted 28 points in 28 games. Per Pick224.com, he ranked 8th in the AHL in Primary EV Points/60 (minimum 25 GP)
Could he have somewhat of a similar trajectory in the NHL? Of course, I doubt his offensive ceiling is exceedingly high, but I could see him start off as a checking defensive forward in his initial stint in the NHL, and then gradually display solid offensive results. As stated previously, his transition results raise some hope.
The tools are certainly there for McLeod. His defensive ceiling seems sky-high, and several things suggest that he does possess some offensive potential. He seems on track to develop into a valuable two-way middle-six player. As we head into 2022-23, I’m excited to see the player he can become, as he will be an important asset to the team.
*All microstats courtesy of Corey Sznajder and all other stats via EvolvingHockey and Natural Stat Trick unless stated otherwise
Find me on Twitter (@NHL_Sid)

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