EDMONTON, AB - After receiving his first NHL call-up and appearing in 14 games with the Oilers in '20-21, Ryan McLeod is still learning how to hang around the League for good.
"It just takes a lot of hard work to make it to this level and stick," McLeod said following Friday's practice at Rogers Place. "There are a lot of great players and you've got to find a role, be an all-star in that role, and do as well as you can, so I'm just trying to find my way."
McLeod has been entrenched in the battle for roster spots in the club's bottom-six forwards and has already created a consistent dialogue with summer arrival Derek Ryan for advice on how to best grow his game as a centre.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound McLeod is using his sizeable frame and skillset to hold down a role in the club's bottom six as a forward who employs size and speed while using his skillset to cause havoc on the forecheck and produce offensively.
"I think I just bring a lot of speed and a little bit of skill in the bottom six," he said. "I'm a big body and I think I could use it a little bit better, but I'm putting that into my game. I think it's just a lot of speed and a lot of direct plays."
"You've got to find your role and stick do it; don't do too much, and just play your game doing the best you can."
Video: RAW | Ryan McLeod 10.08.21
To Head Coach Dave Tippett, there are different ways for McLeod to utilize that size, speed, and physicality other than looking for contact. When tasking him over the past three weeks during preseason and Training Camp to use his size more, the Oilers coach is looking at the peripheral areas of the game for where the young centre can maximize those attributes to his benefit.
"Puck battles and getting the puck back," Tippett said. "Using your physical play to get the puck back, which is not always hitting a guy. It's body position and using your stick. It's having the puck, protecting it, and not getting it taken off you. There are strength factors in both of those."
While McLeod has already made adjustments in these areas, Tippett believes that McLeod has the hockey IQ and positional awareness to hone his skillset into a reliable and consistent tool to be utilized by the Oilers this season.
"He's a young player and he's come a long way in both of those aspects, but (there's) still some more to go," Tippett said. "His style isn't to go out and run around and hit people. He's a smart player positionally, and for centremen, it's hard to go out and run around and hit people."
Video: PRACTICE | Fine Tuning 10.08.21
That smart positional play is a solid foundation for the 22-year-old to adapt to the NHL in a bottom-six role, where having a notable impact on the game from the third or fourth line can be a huge motivator and added bonus for any team.
In the third period of Thursday's win over Vancouver, McLeod exemplified his potential in a bottom-six role when he played his part on a line with Tyler Benson and Colton Sceviour helping shift momentum in the Oilers favour with a hard forechecking shift and good possession in the offensive zone.
"Those are things in a game where a line like that can jump out and give you energy, and they have an impact on the game even though it's not on the scoreboard," Tippett added. "It's having an impact on turning momentum in your favour, so those are all things that you look at from that line. If they go out and turn over a puck or spend the whole shift in their own zone, then it's going the other way."