The 19-year-old's big frame and quick feet have quickly, and seamlessly, translated to the professional game with the Condors under impressive circumstances
BAKERSFIELD, CA - Centre Ryan McLeod didn't have much time to decompress after a long OHL season.
Things were about to change, and change quickly.
The focus for the second round, 40th overall pick by the Oilers at the 2018 NHL Draft quickly shifted from major junior to professional hockey with the signing of an AHL Amateur Tryout Contract and his three-year Entry-Level Contract on May 1 - just two days removed from a seven-game defeat to the Guelph Storm in the third round of the OHL playoffs.
"It was crazy," McLeod said of signing his first pro deal. "I didn't really know when it was going to happen, but I was so excited and super happy to be here."
'Here' is Bakersfield, California, where the 19-year-old quickly jetted to no more than 24 hours after putting pen to paper in order to join up with his new Condors teammates.
"We lost to Guelph, who's obviously a strong team, and I got the call the next day that I was coming here," McLeod said following Monday's practice at Rabobank Arena. "So I drove home, hopped on a plane, got a practice in and watched the first game. It's been a great experience so far."
McLeod took his first practice as an opportunity to get accustomed to his new team and its systems, keen on learning how to best impose his big frame and rapid skating ability on a new league.
He had a birds eye view of the speed needed to make plays in the AHL and just how physical it can be in comparison to major junior from above during Game 1 after playing 304 games with the Mississauga Steelheads and Saginaw Spirit over four seasons, amassing 69 goals and 159 assists in the process.
"I think it was good," he said. "I watched the game to see the speed and physicality, and I did some video also which was helpful. Then I came in and I did pretty well.
"I think confidence and just being hard on yourself to make the right plays and not thinking you're less than the guys, while just going out there and playing your game [was important]."
The precedent was set by friend and former London Knight defenceman Evan Bouchard, who made the jump straight to Condorstown from the OHL and taking a game to observe the adjustment needed before being able to contribute. Bouchard learned plenty about what McLeod is able to bring to the table after losing out with London in seven games to Saginaw.
"It was good to get the chance to watch the first game coming in," Bouchard said, speaking from his own experience observing his first game before coming in and adding a goal and two assists in his AHL debut. "It was good for him to see the pace of play and I think coming into the game for me I think it went well, and for him it went really well. He showcased himself out there.
"He knows where to be. He's a smart player, he knows where to be doing the little things like stick lifts, getting the puck out, and getting it up to the point to start the play."
McLeod heeded the call seamlessly, notching an assist on Ethan Bear's goal that cut San Diego's lead to 2-1 in the third period of Game 2 of the Pacific Division Final and gaining more and more trust from Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft.
"I think anytime a player comes out of the NCAA or major junior as Ryan did, it's a huge step up to professional hockey," the Condors bench boss said. "This is a man's league, and teams and individuals make you earn every square inch of the ice surface.
"I thought Ryan did a heck of a job. He'd only been around us for a couple of days. I think he's big, he's fast, he has a really good stick that's able to disrupt other teams' rehearsed retrievals. He's a heck of a player for us and he showed extremely well under tense conditions in Game 2."
Woodcroft's positive impression from McLeod builds upon what was already a positive showing for the 6-foot-3 centre at Oilers Rookie Camp and Pre-Season at the onset of the season.
"Ryan has always had the reputation of being a fluid and dominant skater," Woodcroft said. "That's without question, and my impression in Development and Rookie Camp was being very impressed with how he got up and down the ice.
"I think over the last year, he's worked hard on making sure he's not swinging by plays, that he's staying in the play and stopping on loose pucks, and taking pride in the defensive side of things. He still has a ways to go like all the young guys do, that's why they're in the American Hockey League, but I can tell you he has a great mindset about him. He's really positive, very coachable, and he takes in the information we relay to him."