Ryan McLeod

Ryan McLeod learned the value of the little things during the Edmonton Oilers’ dramatic in-season turnaround and run to the Stanley Cup Final.

In 70 games following a 2-9-1 start, the Oilers ranked sixth in goals against (186), seventh on the penalty kill (81.5 percent), and third in shot-attempt differential (623). Those defensive habits were instrumental in their 104-point finish and subsequent playoff run.

“It’s a tough league to win in and the margin of error is so small that those little things really do matter,” McLeod said. “And over 82 games, if you do it the right way, it’s gonna balance out.”

The Sabres acquired McLeod from Edmonton last Friday, the latest in a series of additions at forward geared toward refining the details in Buffalo’s game. The 24-year-old was a regular contributor to the Oilers penalty kill and played a two-way role as the team’s third centerman.

McLeod tied for 15th in the NHL with 66 takeaways, a byproduct of how he blended his 6-foot-3 frame with skating that ranks among the league’s fastest. NHL EDGE puck tracking metrics place McLeod in the 99th percentile of players with 373 speed bursts over 20 miles per hour. The league average is 73.

The Oilers owned a 56.6-percent share of shot attempts with McLeod on the ice at 5-on-5, the best mark of his young career. On the penalty kill, McLeod was on the ice for 4.20 power-play goals against per 60 minutes – the seventh-lowest mark in the NHL.

Then there’s the faceoff circle, an area earmarked for improvement by incoming Sabres coach Lindy Ruff during his introductory press conference in April. McLeod won a career-best 50.8 percent of his draws, a number that rose to 52.4 percent in 24 playoff games.

“I think we've proven in this league over the last couple of years that we have guys that can be as talented as anyone and make plays,” Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said following the opening of free agency on July 1. “We needed to round the group out.”

Adams listed physicality, sustained forechecking, and defensive responsibility as areas the Sabres sought to reinforce through their offseason additions. In addition to McLeod, the Sabres added Jason Zucker along with a trio of hard hitters in Beck Malenstyn, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and Sam Lafferty.

Zucker, a veteran with 52 playoff games on his resume, has scored 20-plus goals in six different seasons but possesses the versatility to move up and down the lineup.  Malenstyn, Aube-Kubel, and Lafferty all would have led Sabres forwards in hits last season and have played in defense-heavy roles – including this past season, when Aube-Kubel and Malenstyn were frequent linemates on a Washington fourth line often tasked with shutting down opposing teams’ top players.

Aube-Kubel pointed to speed as the other ingredient shared by Buffalo’s incoming class of players. According to NHL EDGE, McCleod, Malenstyn, Aube-Kubel, and Lafferty all posted top skating speeds that ranked in the 93rd percentile of NHL players or higher last season.

Aube-Kubel likened that recipe to his experience playing for the Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche in 2021-22.

“I thought that that team was so fast transition wise,” Aube-Kubel said. “Everyone was really fast on the team, and I think that’s what Buffalo did a good job (of) too at free agency.”

Here are more takeaways from Wednesday’s introductory press conferences with Aube-Kubel and McLeod.

1. McLeod believes he has room to grow offensively after reaching career highs in goals (12), assists (18) and points (30) in 81 games last season.

“I’m trying to make a habit of shooting the puck more and getting to the net more,” he said. “Anytime you can chip in offensively and score the goal, it’s going to help the team. So, trying to do more of that.”

Ryan McLeod addresses the media

2. McLeod said he was taking group photos at a friend’s wedding when he learned of the trade. His entire career to that point had been spent with the Oilers, who drafted him during the second round in 2018. He does, however, have Buffalo connections – he grew up an hour north in Mississauga and his older brother, Matt, played at Canisius University.

McLeod also spoke positively about his impressions of the Sabres’ roster.

“They look great,” he said. “A lot of skill on that team. A lot of skill on the back end too, so it’s going to be fun to play with that. A lot of good puck movers and guys who can skate. Just have to see how I can fit in. They’re a younger team than what I had in Edmonton. It’s super exciting. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

3. Aube-Kubel said one of his first texts upon signing with the Sabres was from defenseman Bowen Byram, his former teammate on the Avalanche.

“Of course, it’s fun to have a friend, friendship back together,” he said. “And yeah, he said he loved the group there.”

Nicolas Aube-Kubel addressees the media

4. Aube-Kubel also expressed an eagerness to reunite with Malenstyn, who led Capitals forwards in blocked shots (93) and hits (241).

“It was a joy playing with him the whole year,” he said. “He’s a really hard player to play against. That’s something I learned when I played against him in the American League. Also, while playing with him, it’s not just how many shots he blocks, how many little details. He plays safe, he plays the right way. So, it was a pleasure to play with him this year.

“… I’m pretty excited for him to take the next step in his career, and I’ll be by his side to help him. I think we’re gonna do some damage together.”