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Storm Watch: Merkley trying to keep it simple against top competition

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WINDSOR, ON - SEPTEMBER 24: Defenceman Ryan Merkley #6 of the Guelph Storm moves the puck against Cole Purboo #26 of the Windsor Spitfires on September 24, 2017 at the WFCU Centre in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images

Welcome to our weekly check in on San Jose Sharks first-round draft pick Ryan Merkley and his Ontario Hockey League club, the Guelph Storm.

This week, we had the added bonus of seeing Merkley suit up with a host of OHL All-Stars as part of the annual Canadian Hockey League series against the Russian junior squad.

Merkley: Playing with OHL All-Stars “unreal”

Merkley recorded an assist in the first game against Russia, a 3-1 win for the OHL side. Most of the credit belong to Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds forward and Arizona Coyotes prospect Barrett Hayton for the incredible finish.

Clearly, Merkley was having some #fun out there.

“It’s unreal. You make a pass and these guys are 50-goal scorers, 100-point guys, so (they’re) nice to play with,” Merkley said after that first contest, per the OHL’s website. “Here I’m just trying to play my game, show I can play defense against (the Russians), make the first pass, make it simple.”

The OHL was blanked by the Russians in the second game on Monday, and Merkley received a 10-minute misconduct for a check from behind. Reviews of his game were also a bit mixed.

We will have to wait and see if Merkley receives serious consideration for the Canadian national junior team this winter.

Merkley thinks Storm season “is going well”

In the interview referenced above, Merkley added this about how things are going with the Storm: “I think my season has been going well. Guelph (is a) contender this year. We’re a lot better, a lot older, so it’s a lot easier to play with these guys. It’s fun.”

It definitely helps when the bounces go your way, as they did here Friday on Merkley’s fourth goal of the season — with a little help from the Barrie Colts’ defense.

Guelph went on to win that game by a score of 4-3, and Merkley also drew a secondary assist on one of Nate Schnarr’s three goals.

The Storm played again Saturday in Windsor, dropping a 2-1 decision to the host Spitfires in a shootout. Merkley drew another secondary assist in this one on a goal scored by Isaac Ratcliffe. He also caused backup goalie Nico Daws to enter the game and save a penalty shot in overtime when starter Anthony Popovich needed a skate blade fixed. That big save was preceded by Windsor’s Cody Morgan crashing into Popovich after being tripped from behind on a breakaway by Merkley. The play can be seen here.

Where Guelph, Merkley now stand

The 1-0-1 record over the past two games earned the Storm a total of three points, but they weren’t enough to fend off the charging London Knights (12-4-2-0), who now sit one point ahead of Guelph (10-4-3-2) in the Midwest Division with a game in hand.

As for Merkley, he’s now up to four goals and 21 assists in 17 games, and his scoring lead among OHL defensemen is up to five points over second-place Mac Hollowell of the Greyhounds. He also sits second in team scoring behind only Schnarr and just ahead of Ratcliffe.

Schnarr, though, realizes where some credit is due. “I get a lot of great passes and a lot of credit goes to our special teams and I owe all my (success) to my teammates in the dressing room,” he told Paul Osborne of the Guelph Mercury Tribune.

Merkley also ranks first among players at his position in primary points (14) and power play points (11), according to prospect stats.

The one glaring concern in his offensive game remains his shots, and his 1.76 per game remain below his previous marks. But like he said above, he’s working on keeping his game simple, making that first pass, and letting his talented forwards do the rest. He’s also putting himself in position to make plays, as evidenced by the goal above.

Up Next:

Wednesday, Nov. 14 @ Mississauga Steelheads
Friday, Nov. 16 vs. Flint Firebirds
Saturday, Nov. 17 vs. London Knights

Bonus footage:

I mean, come on ...