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Storm Watch: Merkley’s pros far outweighing his cons

DALLAS, TX - JUNE 22: Ryan Merkley poses after being selected twenty-first overall by the San Jose Sharks during the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 22, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

It was an up, down, then way up weekend for Ryan Merkley and the Guelph Storm.

Faced with three games in three days, Guelph kicked things off by beating the Owen Sound Attack 6-3 on Friday, then lost by the same score to the Sting in Sarnia on Saturday. Sunday brought forth a matinee tilt with the London Knights, and the Storm emerged victorious with a 3-2 win in overtime.

For the season, this club has posted a record of 6-2-1, good for 13 points and first place in the Ontario Hockey League’s Western Conference. And even prior to these latest three games, Guelph had cracked the Canadian Hockey League’s Top Ten, four spots behind the Knights.

How did Merkley fare?

In Friday’s game against Owen Sound, Merkley recorded his first goal of the season, firing an additional two shots on net. It wasn’t much of a highlight, but it’s always good to get in the G column. For anyone who puts stock in the stat, he was also a minus-1.

Saturday’s loss in Sarnia was a bit of a low point in his season to date, as Merkley reportedly showed flashes of the immaturity that’s been a knock against him in the past.

The outburst was corroborated from behind the Storm bench, albeit from an audible perspective.

Maybe this can be chalked up to the competitive spirit of a teenager, and there didn’t seem to be much made of the incident publicly by the team or its beat reporters. In the end, Merkley recorded one shot and was a minus-2 on the night, and the team as a whole offered some pretty lackluster play, to be frank. Some emotion from Merkley was perhaps more an attempt to wake up his team.

If Saturday was a step back for the Storm, then Sunday’s performance was an act of redemption. This is true especially for Merkley, who recorded a goal and two assists, both of which were secondary in nature, but no less impressive.

The other came in overtime on the power play, where Merkley was able to wheel in deep into the offensive zone and help set up the winner.

Nate Schnarr, the team’s leading scorer and an Arizona Coyotes prospect, said it was important to turn the page after Saturday’s lowly effort.

“We know we didn’t have our best game (Saturday) night and it just speaks to the quality of team we have in the dressing room: good leadership and great guys,” Schnarr said, according to Tony Saxon of Guelph Today. ”Instead of letting it trail into the next day, we just flipped the page. We knew we had a top team (London) coming into our rink and we just said let’s turn it around and have a good day today.”

For his part, Merkley was glad to end the weekend on a winning note, because who wouldn’t be?

“That was probably our best 60 minutes so far (this season),” Merkley said. “We created a lot of chances and we were solid in the defensive zone. 6-2-1 is a lot better than 5-3-1.”

His actions Saturday obviously didn’t register too much in the organization, as he was named the team’s player of the week for the period encapsulating these three contest.

Season Stats So Far

Through seven games, Merkley now sits on two goals and eight assists. He ranks second among OHL defensemen in scoring with 10 points, and jumps to first in points per game with an average of 1.43 — just 0.05 points ahead of New York Islanders prospect Bode Wilde, who was selected 41st overall in 2018.

In terms of primary points, Merkley has recorded five, pushing him into a tie for ninth among players at his position in that category. Also of note, his 12 shots on goal are good for 57th for a blue liner, so that’s a number that should rise, given that he averaged 2.29 shots per game last season and 2.25 as a rookie. His present average is 1.73.

He’s a minus-2 for the season, and while detractors will point to this outdated stat, he’s actually showing much improvement in his own end and that final number won’t be as outlandish as in previous seasons (minus-29 and minus-41). Unfortunately, there’s not much available in the way of possession stats, but as the Storm noted in the PoW announcement, his presence has been a major boost and obviously he brings more net positives than the opposite:

Returned from the Sharks late in September, Merkley has had an immediate impact on the Storm’s play. The 18 year old’s 10 points put him fourth in Storm scoring and third in the league in defensive scoring. Losing just once with him in the line-up, the Storm’s power play has jumped to first in the league thanks partly to Merkley’s five power play assists.

Overall, there’s a lot to like about how Merkley is playing this season, and it’s translating into wins for Guelph, who sits in a tie for second overall in the OHL.

Up Next:

Friday, Oct. 19 @ Kitchener Rangers
Saturday, Oct. 20 @ Owen Sounds Attack
Sunday, Oct. 21 vs. Kitchener Rangers

(Stats courtesy: Prospect Stats)