Rising younger pivot represents one other difficult negotiation for Edmonton Oilers

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2022-23 Edmonton Oilers in evaluate
Ryan McLeod

One of many defining traits of the latest model of the Edmonton Oilers was a vastly improved efficiency from a standard weak hyperlink: the underside 6.

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Earlier than we go any additional, let’s make clear that on this crew I outline the “backside 6” as gamers who play when superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are resting. Which means on some nights the “backside 6” is perhaps a backside 5, backside 6, backside 8 or backside 9, relying on whether or not the coaches mix 97 + 29 on a single line, and whether or not they use 11 forwards or 12.

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Suppose again simply 2 years in the past to the Silo Season the place the Oilers noticed nothing however Canadian opponents for 60 video games. Their supporting forged of forwards up entrance included the likes of Alex Chiasson, Gaetan Haas, Josh Archibald, Tyler Ennis, James Neal, Devin Shore, Zack Kassian, Kyle Turris. Amongst them, Jujhar Khaira stood out because the solely depth ahead the group had drafted and developed.

Late in that 2021 season, Khaira and the others had been joined by 21-year-old Ryan McLeod, on the vanguard of the subsequent wave of internally-developed Oilers. A second-round choose in 2018 (#40 total), the swift-skating McLeod was finishing a whirlwind season that included double-digit video games performed within the Swiss Nationwide League, the American Hockey Leage, and the Nationwide Hockey League.

McLeod performed the ultimate 10 video games of the NHL season plus all 4 within the playoffs. Whereas he barely made a dent on the scoresheet, he impressed most observers together with his terrific skating chops and skill to move the puck with velocity if not essentially function. Issues had been raised — as they’d been in each pre-draft scouting report concerning the participant — about his tendency to play on the perimeter, however impressions had been usually robust.

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Two years later McLeod continues to progress, whilst these early scouting reviews retain some elementary truths. Nice skater? Test. Good checker? Test. Robust at transporting the puck between the 20-yard traces? Test. Good within the purple zone? Not a lot. Onerous on the puck? Some nights, sure.

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Still, McLeod’s numbers crept northward in his second full NHL season, from 9 to 11 goals and from 21 to 23 points even as he played 20% fewer games than in his generally successful rookie campaign. That was due to 2 separate injuries that each knocked him out of the line-up for 4 weeks. First a high ankle sprain cost him most of December, while an upper body injury in the late going saw him return to the line-up just 2 games before the playoffs.

McLeod’s 23 points were bought and paid for. He recorded 9-11-20 at even strength, 2-1-3 on the penalty kill and 0-0-0 on the powerplay. (He did get some looks on the second unit, but nothing to show for it after 2-3-5 on the PP in his rookie year.)

His most common linemates (100+ of McLeod’s 645 minutes at 5v5) were Warren Foegele, the since-traded Jesse Puljujarvi, Derek Ryan, Dylan Holloway, Matttias Janmark … bottom sixers all. Every so often he’d get a look on Draisaitl’s left wing, but it never seemed to last long; McLeod’s services were more in need in the middle of the ice.

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Where he performed just fine. Individually he saw his scoring rates take a very nice jump, from 0.56 to 0.84 Goals/60 at 5v5 and from 1.29 top a very respectable 1.86 Points/60. That was 8th among Oilers forwards, third line production; but ranked 149th of the 382 attackers who played 500 5v5 minutes. That’s a second-line rate

While arrows pointed mostly in the right direction, It was an up-and-down season for McLeod, sometimes both at once. He spearheaded a spectacular third period comeback at Madison Square Garden with a trio of third-period assists, only to suffer an injury before that period was out.

His best run came early in 2023 when he fired home 7 goals in 12 games. For that run he seemed to find his mojo around the net, but it was fleeting. In his other 45 games he scored just 4 times. At times it seemed his feet were too fast for his hands, or his head, as good chances went to waste.

His worst moment came before family and friends in his home town of Toronto on Hockey Night in Canada when he coughed up the puck right in front of his own net. Mitch Marner accepted the gift and immediately converted it into a goal with a move so brilliant it was on the highlight reels for weeks thereafter, McLeod’s gaffe embedded in the sequence. Tough one for the kid.

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But overall trends were good. His per-game ice time rose by 10% at even strength and by nearly 50% on the penalty kill, where he was a regular on the second unit.

According to PuckIQ.com, at 5v5 McLeod played 129 minutes against Elite opposition; 258 against Middle and 258 against Grit for a perfect 20/40/40 split. He’s not yet at the point where he sees a steady diet of the toughs; that said, he’s still 23 years old, and he doesn’t yet get paid as much as a million bucks a year.

That’s about to change. McLeod has been very patient in waiting his turn.

  • After a solid camp in the fall of 2021 he was sent down to Bakersfield to start the season, not because of his play but because he was waiver-exempt while lesser players like Tyler Benson and Brendan Perlini were not.
  • Then in 2022 he was issued a qualifying offer but his contract situation remained on the back burner until not just the proverbial “eve” of training camp but the actual “morn” of the first skate. McLeod did the team a solid that day, signing a lowball $798,000 contract that solved the club’s short-term cap woes. He also did himself a solid, signing for a figure that ensured he would stay in the NHL while not making waves. But by all appearances, a team player taking one for the team.

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Finally in 2023, McLeod has some leverage of his own. He has the right to file for arbitration this summer, thus accelerating the negotiation process. Last year young forwards Puljujarvi and Yamamoto had their first crack at it and both filed for arbitration. In both instances their cases were settled quickly, as Ken Holland sidestepped the arb process entirely and signed both before their hearing dates, with a healthy raise in each case.

McLeod can expect a raise as well, though surely not into the $3 million range as happened with both JP and KY. He does not yet have the statistical résumé of those former first-round picks, who had played 259 and 186 NHL games respectively with 40+ career goals apiece at the time their arbitration hearings were scheduled. McLeod has just 138 GP and 20 goals.

Still he’s built a solid foundation over his 2 full NHL seasons as, at minimum, a reliable bottom sixer. That in itself is not worth $3 million or anywhere close in the current market. But surely it’s worth somewhere north of $1 million, with a premium if a second year is tacked on.

Ideally, this will get done in June before the machinations of qualifying offers and arbitration filings ever come into play. It’s Ken Holland’s job to walk the tightrope to find the appropriate figure that will both satisfy the player yet leave the GM with as much cap space as possible.

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That’s a dwindling resource just now. Adding to the challenge is that while all the top players (save RFA Evan Bouchard, the subject of our first player review) are locked in, that splendid bottom six forward group I was trumpeting up the page consists almost entirely of players with expired contracts. The Oilers have a degree of control over RFAs McLeod and Klim Kostin, but not much more than first negotiating dibs with UFAs Nick Bjugstad, Mattias Janmark, Derek Ryan and Devin Shore.

Some of those players will move on, but don’t expect Ryan McLeod to be among them. The lone home-grown player in that entire group, he spearheads the next wave of support players and eventually, maybe more than that. Nobody can quite tell where the talented McLeod’s ceiling is just yet, but I think we can all agree he hasn’t reached it yet.

Expectations for 2023-24: Get that contract looked after sooner than later. Continue to stake his claim on the 3C role. fill in at LW as needed and chip in on both special teams. Upgrade his finishing skills into a 15-20 goal man.

Recently at the Cult of Hockey

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McCURDY: Tough path to improving Oilers for Holland

Yamamoto’s days with Oil may be numbered

Follow me on Twitter @BruceMcCurdy

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