This in from Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett, news that Dmitry Kulikov and Ryan McLeod will be in the line-up tonight for the Edmonton Oilers. McLeod will play on a line with Devin Shore on his left wing and Josh Archibald on his right wing. Kulikov will play with Adam Larsson.
Jujhar Khaira is skating but has not been cleared to play. James Neal is in the line-up tonight. Mike Smith will start in net.
Based on the practice lines on Sunday and what Tippett said today, the following lines look likely:
1. It was a long time coming for the Oilers to bring in added help on the forward lines from Bakersfield, but better late than never. McLeod has been playing with increased offensive confidence and skill all season.
2. McLeod’s year-to-year improvement in the AHL is exactly what you need to see for a player with an NHL future. As a 20-year old, he got 23 points in 56 games, OK, but not great. This season he’s put up 28 points in 28 games, largely playing on the AHL’s best line with Cooper Marody, 31 points in 31 games, and Tyler Benson, 31 points in 29 games.
3. I’m not sure that any player in the NHL has more complex reads to make on defence that a centre in the d-zone. He’s got to both help the d-men win battles in both corners, but also help in front of the net. He’s got to know when to bite on the puck carrier or to back off and cover the slot. He’s got to work with the d-men to advance the puck, which requires a cautious approach, not taking off way up the ice for a pass. The biggest issue — by far — that we’ve seen from young centres on the Oilers in the last decade, including stars like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, is a struggle to sense incoming danger in front of the Edmonton net and to make sure to cover it off. It’s an immensely difficult job, so hard that a veteran centre like Kyle Turris is now out of the line-up, mainly because he left far too many opposing attackers open for shots in front of the Edmonton net. All this is my way of saying it’s a huge ask of McLeod to step in as a centre at the NHL level. But if he focuses on covering off that defensive slot tonight, and in games to come, he’ll be more than half-way there as a checking NHL centre. Whatever he can bring on the attack and forecheck (and there I’m sure he’ll bring plenty) will be a bonus.