The 2018 second-rounder has the speed and playmaking ability on offense, but now he’s taking on the enemy’s top guns – and the Steelheads are winning a lot
Ryan McLeod|Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
Last season, the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads won just two of their first 10 games, despite being a pre-season favorite to be a top team in the Eastern Conference. Despite a lot of talent, the vibe was off. The Steelheads rebounded enough to make the playoffs, but fell to Barrie in the first round. What a world of difference a year makes.
Right now, Mississauga is tied for the second-best record in the league (6-2-1) and ranks tops in the Central Division. The main driver is Edmonton Oilers prospect Ryan McLeod, a devastatingly effective center who uses his speed and smarts to his advantage.
Before now, McLeod had been overshadowed a bit in Mississauga by older brother Mikey McLeod, the New Jersey Devils pick now in his first year of pro. With Mikey and 2018 OHL defenseman of the year Nic Hague (who also turned pro) gone, the Steelheads are younger, but Ryan McLeod is helping them get results.
“He’s a top forward in our league so we’ll play him against other team’s top players,” said Mississauga coach/GM James Richmond. “He’s good on faceoffs, he has speed and he’s hard on pucks, so he’s hard to play against.”
Indeed, in a recent home win over Hamilton, McLeod was hard-matched against the Bulldogs’ top line of Brandon Saigeon (COL), Matthew Strome (PHI) and Arthur Kaliyev (2019) and managed to keep the talented trio off the scoreboard entirely. Taking on that responsibility is something McLeod is definitely up for and offensively, McLeod has 11 points in his first seven games this year.
“Coming back from Edmonton, that was something I wanted to work on; playing against other teams’ top lines and playing down low,” he said. “Matching up against the best every night will really help me do that. My game is offensive, but I can shut guys down.”
Though he easily could have gone in the first round, McLeod slipped to 40th overall in the 2018 draft, where he was happily snapped up by the Oilers. For a franchise that has an obvious No. 1 center in Connor McDavid but could use more help down the middle (especially since having Leon Draisaitl on McDavid’s wing has been so effective in the past), McLeod could very well slot in as a perfect second-line option in the near future. He played so well in his first NHL training camp this past summer that Edmonton gave him a look during exhibition play and that really helped the 19-year-old.
“I learned tons,” McLeod said. “They were really happy with me and they gave me a really good chance. It gave me a lot of confidence.”
McLeod left Edmonton with the mission to work on his play away from the puck and to be stronger in the defensive zone. For his coach, the experience with the Oilers was perfect for McLeod’s development.
“He got to go away and experience a rookie camp and an NHL camp and some exhibition games where he played pretty well, so he now understands the hardness of the pro game,” Richmond said. “I can talk to the players all I want and talk about the speed, but there’s a hardness up there. You have to play hard up the middle of the ice, you have to play hard for 200 feet and every puck battle is a hard battle. I don’t think enough junior players understand how hard it is.”
As for the vibe around the Steelheads, it seems a lot better this season and that’s leading to more wins. McLeod likes what he has seen so far from his squad.
“We’re really clicking right now,” he said. “Everyone respects everyone so it’s really good in the room. It’s fun to come to the rink every day.”
If the talented young pivot continues to grow his game, he’ll end up at a much bigger rink in Alberta next season.