Ryan McLeod skates against Buffalo on March 9. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Excited Ryan McLeod ready for ‘great opportunity’ after trade to Sabres

Eleven days after his marathon nine-month, 105-game season ended, Ryan McLeod was posing for pictures at his friend’s wedding when he learned the Edmonton Oilers had traded him to the Buffalo Sabres.

Naturally, McLeod, 24, wanted to enjoy some down time following an emotional and grueling campaign, so the timing struck him as “a little funny.”

“A little whirlwind,” the center said on a Zoom call Wednesday of getting traded for the first time. “You don’t really know what’s going on or anything.”

Having played a prominent role in Edmonton’s wild run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, a memorable series in which they lost after roaring back from a 3-0 deficit, the deal surprised McLeod.

But the Oilers, who also packaged wing prospect Tyler Tullio in the trade, needed to create salary cap space. They couldn’t turn down Buffalo’s enticing offer of center prospect Matt Savoie.

Excitement for what McLeod called “a great opportunity” quickly replaced the sting of leaving his friends and the organization that had drafted him 40th overall in 2018.

“They look great,” he said of the Sabres, a team younger than the Oilers. “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.”

The Sabres clearly believe the 6-foot-3, 188-pound McLeod will fit in well. They like him so much they gave up Savoie, the ninth overall pick in 2022 and one of their top prospects.

He’s the latest and most prominent addition to a group of bottom-six forwards the Sabres are confident they’ve improved this summer. Prior to Friday’s trade, they had dealt for Beck Malenstyn and signed Sam Lafferty and Nicolas Aube-Kubel as free agents.

McLeod will likely be utilized as their third-line center and be relied upon to take critical faceoffs.

Having played on deep Oilers teams, he has skated alongside some of hockey’s elite talent, including superstar Leon Draisaitl.

McLeod has upped his goal and point totals in each of the past three seasons. He compiled 12 goals and 30 points in 71 regular-season games in 2023-24 and four goals in 24 playoff outings.

He said his game is still evolving offensively.

“I try to play with a lot of speed and on the defensive side of the puck but still working on that offense still,” he said. “Having the confidence of playing with Draisaitl, such a demanding player and wants to make so many great plays. You have to do those if you want to play with him. That experience really helped me.”

McLeod’s ability to win faceoffs likely enhanced his value to the Sabres, who ranked dead last in the dot last season, winning a paltry 45 percent. He won 50.8 percent of his draws last season, a number that would’ve led his new team by more than three points.

He said learning the ins and outs of faceoffs “takes time.”

“It’s kind of tough coming into the league,” he said. “Maybe the linesmen don’t (give) you as much respect either. So it’s tough on that part.”

McLeod, who has played 56 career postseason contests, said he has learned how tough it can be to win in the NHL. The Sabres, of course, own an NHL-record 13-year playoff drought.

The Oilers started last season 2-9-1 before and 5-12-1 before finding a groove in December.

“Everyone kind of doubted us out,” McLeod said. “We were kind of playing with a little bit of an edge on our shoulder and a little bit of chip. We kind of just had such good belief in our room that we would come out of that stronger, and we did a great job of that. “

In the Oilers’ second-round playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks, they trailed 3-2 before winning the last two games. In the final, they almost made history by becoming the first team since 1942 to erase a 3-0 deficit and win a championship.

“The biggest thing that we did in Edmonton is we tried to keep our confidence as high as we could,” McLeod said of the postseason. “We were trying to make plays through the whole playoffs. And I think I could try to bring that into next season more.”

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