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GENE'S BLOG: Up in the McLeods

After facing brother Michael in NHL action then moving up the Oilers lineup, it was an exciting week for Ryan McLeod and his family

by Gene Principe /

It was last Monday morning and the Edmonton Oilers had just finished taking part in their morning skate before an evening matchup versus the New York Rangers. It had been a very busy few days for every Oiler, including Ryan McLeod. 

The team played back-to-back games in New Jersey and Long Island. A day off Sunday to recover from those consecutive games and then it was time to face off against the Rangers in the world's most famous arena: Madison Square Garden. 

In The City That Never Sleeps, McLeod was headed back to his room to catch a little shut-eye before hopping back on the bus for the rink. As he exited, he walked by the media and said "thank you" to me. I quickly said "you're welcome" without actually knowing what he was thanking me for. 

He replied, "I appreciate what you did for my family."

Video: EDM@NYR: McLeod gets one back for Oilers

To be honest, I didn't do much. I did what any other reporter, journalist or host would have done, and that's to tell as many people as possible about the McLeod family. 

Brothers Ryan with Edmonton and Michael with New Jersey played against each other for the first time at the NHL level. Anyone had to appreciate what a special opportunity this was for everyone, including older brother Matt who wasn't able to make it, and parents Judy and Rich who took it in first hand. 

It really was great storytelling TV. 

The public relations departments from both teams (thanks Kaite, Jamie and Shawn from Edmonton) allowed us to do a pre-taped interview with Ryan and Michael for use during the second intermission. Then, the parents joined us live in the first intermission.

It was wonderful to hear them talk about the bundle of nerves mixed in with excitement - along with a dash or two of uncertainty - on how something that happened over and over again on the backyard rink would turn out in an NHL arena. 

They each had a jersey and hat from both teams and would switch halfway through the game so each wore Oilers and Devils colours for an equal amount of time. Somebody had to win and somebody had to lose. I guess Ryan won the battle in his first multi-point game with two assists, but Michael won the war as the Devils edged the Oilers in overtime. It was likely the younger McLeod's best game as an Oiler and a hint of what's to come from this smooth-skating centreman.

Video: EDM@NJD: McDavid slips coverage, fires wrist shot in

I love a good story but if Ryan were playing minimal minutes and was a spare-part player, the McLeod story just wouldn't have had the same feel to it. The reason it's a story is that the boys are in the NHL and, as we saw in the game, Edmonton's McLeod is showing his potential. 

He did again two games later versus the Rangers by scoring a beauty of a goal. It's such a cool thing to see when a young player finds his confidence and shows it on the ice. 

It's a different-looking former second-round pick from the 2018 NHL Draft wearing the No. 71 jersey lately. He looks like the guy the Oilers were excited to add to their roster when training camp began. It didn't happen then, but it sure is happening now. Since he was called up, you can almost see it game-to-game, how the centre is starting to believe he belongs in the NHL.

It's why he had the chance to replace, fill, hold down - whatever way you want to put it - for Connor McDavid on Wednesday night versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

With the captain and another centre Derek Ryan on the COVID protocol list, it was McLeod who was elevated into the spot between Jesse Puljujarvi and Zach Hyman. I understand the Oilers were down three men, including Tyson Barrie, but they did have options and choice No. 1 was the promotion of the 22-year-old. 

McLeod did not look out of place and took another step forward in becoming an integral piece to the team. Hockey is a business but there are moments of enjoyment like the opportunity against the Leafs and the Oilers-Devils matchup. 

After such a special week, the family of Ryan, Michael, mom Judy, dad Richard and brother Matt, who is playing minor pro in Cincinnati, must still be on McLeod Nine.

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