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Right before our eyes, the NHL game is slowing down for Ryan McLeod, and his recent emergence has been made possible by new coach Kris Knoblauch. It’s all arrows up for the bottom-six centreman, who has emerged as the best winger option for centre Leon Draisaitl after a slough of wingers failed to elevate the second forward line in the same way that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman managed, as they found chemistry and boost the Edmonton Oilers’ first line.
Coach Knoblauch deserves credit there, too. Not only has his method of keeping different line combinations together for extended periods of time (a way of helping them find chemistry and consistency) helped the team string together 11 wins in a row, but Knoblauch has also fought the temptation of loading up Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl at 5-on-5, and allowed the Nuge-McDavid-Hyman line to round into the league’s leading analytical line.
Let’s take a look at the numbers to sort out just how good the first line has been, and how much the addition of McLeod to Draisaitl’s line has elevated the big German’s results.
McLeod-Draisaitl has a history of success
I wrote in October, when McDavid was first injured and set to miss playing time, that McLeod was the best option to be elevated and play with Draisaitl. On October 22nd, this was my reasoning for playing McLeod with Draisaitl:
"''Without McDavid, the duo of Draisaitl-McLeod posted 60.2 xGF%, 60.5 SF%, and even 63.6 HDCF% in their 38:09 minutes together over the span of the last 87 games. These are very impressive numbers and make sense when you consider that McLeod can act like a “McDavid-lite” in this situation.''"- @TheLineBlender
How are things going, almost two months and 31 games later? All stats are courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com unless otherwise specified.
In this season’s first 39 Oilers games, McLeod-Draisaitl have played 101:42 minutes at 5-on-5 together. They have posted a strong 59.7 xGF% and an outstanding actual goals share of 11-3 for 78.6 GF%. Those are extremely impressive numbers. Their PDO of 1.11 suggests this rate of GF% may not remain so high, but their high xGF% suggests this is a continuously dominant, outplaying top six duo. Even if the on-ice 94.83 SV% comes down, there’s plenty of room to keep outscoring the competition, and their 16.18 on-ice SH% is nothing unreasonably high.
No doubt, McLeod’s skillset is impressing as a top six winger. He’s historically been puck-dominant along the boards, but he’s now finding ways to get dangerous pucks into slot, and also getting into the slot to cash in himself.
It won’t hurt that McLeod has a history of strong shutdown ability against elite lines, too. I wrote in October:
"“@Woodguy55 outlined this best when he showed that Jack Eichel posted only 31.8 xGF% versus McLeod in their 15-minute TOI against each other.” "- @TheLineBlender
This is a very welcome ability to have on your second top six line, and it appears McLeod is emerging right before our eyes.