BAKERSFIELD, CA - When the dust settles, Evan Bouchard and Ryan McLeod can look back on what were whirlwind seasons and positive showings in their first taste of professional hockey.
The two friends-turned-teammates went 10th and 40th overall to the Oilers at the 2018 NHL Draft and got long looks with the big club during Main Camp and Pre-Season, with Bouchard suiting up for seven games in Edmonton and scoring his first NHL goal.
The two then imposed themselves on the OHL in their final junior seasons before joining, and excelling, with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL during their Calder Cup Playoff run.
Bouchard was slotted immediately into the Condors defensive core, and the impact was instant. A goal and two assists in his debut demonstrated the readiness of the 19-year-old, who played well above expectation before capping off his postseason total at three goals and eight assists in eight games.
Video: CONDORS | Evan Bouchard 05.15.19
"It was extremely valuable," Bouchard said on Wednesday of his first Condors contribution. "Getting into a playoff mentality in the American Hockey League, it's obviously a step higher than what you're used to in the regular season.
"It was important for me, but credit goes to the coaching staff and my teammates for putting me in the position that they did. None of that would've happened if it wasn't for them helping me out and being there supporting me."
McLeod sent Bouchard to Bakersfield early by knocking his London Knights side out in the second round of the OHL playoffs as a member of the Saginaw Spirit, erasing a three-games-to-none disadvantage before suffering a near-similar fate in the semi-finals against the Guelph Storm.
The product of Mississauga, Ontario wouldn't have much time to spend at home before the pivotal moment of signing his Entry Level Contract and booking a ticket to Bakersfield came.
"We lost in Saginaw and guessed I'd just be going home," McLeod said. "Then my agent called me and said I was going to sign and go down to Bakersfield, and I was really fired up. Coming down here it's been a lot of fun. Obviously the guys are really great here and they're a really good team, but it sucked the way we went out."
McLeod took the first game as a chance to get acclimated before contributing three assists in his next five games.
Video: CONDORS | Ryan McLeod 05.15.19
"Coming in I didn't really know if I was going to be in the lineup or not, but coming from junior they were obviously a really strong team and then I got put in, and I think I did pretty well," he continued. "Obviously the team didn't win or go as far as we wanted to, but I think my showing was pretty good."
Not many players can say they played at four separate levels this season as Bouchard can, and the experience has the Oakville, Ontario native reflecting on what was a banner year of hockey for the young professional.
"It's definitely a year that I'm going to remember for the rest of my life," Bouchard said. "Getting the opportunity to play my first NHL game, going back to London, and World Juniors is an experience people dream of as a kid, so that was pretty special. Then being able to come here and get the experience that I did was something that I think is very valuable for me."
Combining their Bakersfield experiences with their early positive showings at the start of the past season with Edmonton has the pair bullish on an offseason packed with plenty of preparation for the upcoming campaign.
"I'm going to try to spend some time in Edmonton this year and work with our trainers down there, so I'm really looking forward to that," McLeod said. "I think just keep working on my game. Keep competing harder and getting to the inside of the ice. I think they're happy with the way I played, there's obviously some things I can change, and I know it now."