The Athletic: Oilers trade Ryan McLeod to Sabres: What this means for both teams


Staff member


The Buffalo Sabres traded 20-year-old forward prospect Matt Savoie to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for center Ryan McLeod and forward prospect Tyler Tullio, the teams announced Friday.

Savoie, the No. 9 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, appeared in only one NHL game and eight AHL games in the Sabres’ organization in the two years since he’s been drafted. McLeod, 24, had a career-best 30 points in 81 games during the regular season while averaging 14:14 of ice time per night. Tullio, a 2020 fifth-round pick, had nine goals and 21 points while playing in the AHL this season.

Buffalo general manager Kevyn Adams said repeatedly this offseason he told teams around the league he was willing to trade draft picks and prospects in a deal that would help the Sabres improve their NHL roster. He traded a second-round pick at the NHL Draft to the Washington Capitals for Beck Malenstyn, a 26-year-old forward known for his physicality and defensive play.

McLeod is an addition that could fit in higher in Buffalo’s lineup. And trading Savoie, who was one of the top prospects in the Sabres’ system, shows they believe in what McLeod could bring.

Buffalo also announced it signed defenseman Henri Jokiharju to a one-year contract worth $3.1 million. He was a restricted free agent and will be an unrestricted free agent after this contract. According to Cap Friendly, the Sabres have about $13.7 million in cap space after their moves today.

They still have to sign restricted free agents Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Peyton Krebs and Beck Malenstyn left to sign. Luukkonen, Buffalo’s starting goalie last season, and Malenstyn, a recent trade acquisition, have both elected for salary arbitration, according to the NHLPA. Arbitration hearings will be held from July 20 to Aug. 4, so the Sabres still have time to come to an agreement with those players before the hearings.

What Sabres are getting in McLeod​

McLeod is one of the fastest players in the NHL, according to the NHL’s tracking data. He reached a top speed of 23.82 miles per hour last season and had 373-speed bursts over 20 miles per hour. Both rank among the best in the NHL.

The Sabres added a lot of speed to the bottom six of their lineup in the last week, trading for Malenstyn and signing Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Sam Lafferty.

They also added Jason Zucker, who still thinks he can bring speed to the lineup at 32 years old. Clearly, that was a priority for Buffalo this offseason. McLeod’s offensive production hasn’t popped in the NHL yet, but he’s been a capable two-way player for the Oilers and should be the Sabres’ third-line center.

He’s also from Mississauga, Ont., so he will now be playing closer to home.

What Oilers are getting in Savoie​

Savoie has dealt with injuries the last two seasons but he’s been one of the most productive players in the WHL since he was drafted. He had 71 points in 34 regular-season games in the WHL last season and then added 10 goals and 24 points in 19 playoff games while leading Moose Jaw to a WHL championship.

The Sabres have a ton of depth in their prospect pool, especially after adding another center, Konsta Helenius, in the first round of the draft last week.

They also have two other highly touted centers in 2022 first-rounders Noah Ostlund and Jiri Kulich. And 2023 second-round pick Anton Wahlberg has also played center as well. That made it likely that Savoie was going to shift to wing in the NHL, and Buffalo wasn’t going to have room for every prospect in their system.

Savoie is from Edmonton so he gets a chance to play closer to home and has the upside to be an impact NHL player in the top six of a lineup.

Why were the Oilers willing to trade McLeod?​

McLeod was in the crosshairs to be dealt by the Oilers after an inconsistent regular season and a subpar postseason — at least until the Stanley Cup Final — combined with the team’s big spending in free agency. Edmonton remains over the salary cap even with his $2.1 million hit off the books. Dylan Holloway and Philip Broberg are RFAs, too.

McLeod failed to record a point in the first 14 games of the Oilers’ playoff run, resulting in him being scratched for Game 3 of the Western Conference Final. He responded with four goals in his last 10 games before Edmonton was eliminated in Game 7 of the Final.

He’s a solid defensive player, something that’s particularly noticeable when he plays his most comfortable and preferred position of center.

He played a prominent role on the penalty kill, which allowed just four goals in the playoffs, mostly used on third forward duo alongside Warren Foegele — who signed with the Los Angeles Kings in free agency.

McLeod’s best production this past season came at left wing on a line with Foegele and Leon Draisaitl. He must work on playing more on the interior and driving to the net, aspects coaches in the organization have been harping on him to do since he turned pro in 2019.

Interestingly, the Oilers opted not to qualify Savoie’s older brother, Carter, last week after he spent two years with AHL Bakersfield. The incoming Savoie instantly becomes the Oilers’ best prospect as they try to replenish one of the worst pipelines in the league. — Daniel Nugent-Bowman, Oilers beat writer
One of the fastest skaters, a penalty kill guy and was edmontons 3rd line center… which means he’s better than what we had going into the trade.