EDMONTON, AB - When you find a groove, you roll with it.
During this past Oilers Main Camp and NHL pre-season, centre Ryan McLeod found the formula.
The Mississauga Steelheads forward barely had time to decompress after impressing management and teammates alike with his blazing speed and playmaking ability in four-straight pre-season games with the Oilers back in September, where he recorded three assists.
McLeod's extended stint with the big club meant he'd miss the first two games of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season, but the lessons learned for the Oilers 2018 second-round selection (40th-overall) would make up the difference. The 19-year-old has since helped his hometown Steelheads recover from a 0-2 start with a goal and five assists in his first four games after going deep into pre-season as one of the Oilers final 16 forwards.
"They were impressed with me and I was just really happy with the way I went out there and competed," McLeod said of his Oilers Main Camp performance. "I had a big summer and was trying to make the team, but I got sent back here and continue to learn.
"I was really hoping that I'd put my best foot forward and I think I did a really good job of that."
The 6-foot-3 left shot has 18 points (3G, 15A) in his first 15 games, with five of those helpers so far coming by playing the set-up role on the power play. McLeod is on pace for 55 assists and slated for a big year with a Steelheads team that's already earned early plaudits as the top team in the OHL's Central Division at 10-5-2 through 17 contests.
"For our team, we've really exceeded expectations so far," McLeod said. "Coming into the year we were kind of a bottom team, but we haven't been playing like one. We're second place in our conference and we're really happy with that."
McLeod was put through the gauntlet with the Oilers playing hard minutes against NHL talent during his extended pre-season look. Once he saw the skill and work ethic required to compete against some of the NHL's top lines, it was about bringing those expectations back to the OHL with him.
"You can use your skill more a bit there and learn more about how to use better positions and dominate," McLeod said of returning to the OHL. "I've had to be a lot stronger defensively after going up against guys like [Winnipeg Jets forwards] Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. You can't make any mistakes or be out of position playing against guys like that. Attention to detail in the defensive zone is a big thing for me, and I'm trying to work on that right now."
As a top junior talent, there's always the hope that Canada comes calling too. Ryan has leaned on his brother and former teammate Michael the past two seasons, now looking to follow in his footsteps as a member of Canada's upcoming World Junior team in Victoria and Vancouver later this year.
"It's a dream come true to be selected by Canada at any level, so I'll hopefully be able to do that," McLeod, a Hlinka Gretzky Cup competitor with Canada in 2015, said. "Watching my brother play the last few years was really cool, so I'm trying to be a leader on the team and play fast because that's what they're looking for. I'm just trying to put my best foot forward."