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Storm Watch: Ryan Merkley averaging most assists per game in OHL

USA Today / Fear the Fin Illustration by JD Young

It was an odd weekend for Ryan Merkley’s junior squad. A huge comeback against a first-place team on Friday was followed by a pair of lopsided games in which the Guelph Storm came out on opposite ends of the spectrum.

The 18-year-old defenseman recorded three assists over the course of the three games, giving him 28 through 23 appearances this season. While that’s good for second among all Ontario Hockey League players, he’s actually tops in terms of assists per game, averaging 1.22.

Guelph’s weekend that was

We love primary assists around here, and after drawing a secondary helper on a Cam Hillis power-play goal in the third period, Merkley set up Isaac Ratcliffe’s overtime winner to defeat the West Division leading Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds — a game the visiting team led 4-1 early in the final frame of regulation.

Guelph traveled to Barrie the following day for a tilt with the Colts. Merkley failed to record a point in that one, and things kind of got away from Guelph after the Storm tied the game 2-2 early in the third period.

I mean, that really escalated quickly.

Merkley was a minus-two on the day, for anyone who cares about that stat.

The Storm rebounded nicely on Sunday, though, beating the North Bay Battalion 6-2. Merkley recorded another primary assist in that one, setting up Alexey Toropchenko’s first of three on the afternoon.

Interestingly, there seemed to be a lot of attention payed to Mason Primeau (son of Wayne), who was recently traded to the Battalion. That included a skirmish with Merkley, per the North Bay Nugget:

Mason Primeau, acquired in a Nov. 15 trade with Guelph, had plenty of interaction with his onetime teammates, including a post-whistle session with Ratcliffe at the Battalion net late in the first period. Primeau was assessed crosschecking and roughing minors and a misconduct, while Ratcliffe drew a roughing call and misconduct.

Primeau received an earlier crosschecking minor and, in the third period, went off with Ryan Merkley, each assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Guelph’s record now stands at 13-6-3-3, and the Storm sits six points behind the London Knights, who lead both the Western Conference and Midwest Division races.

Merkley’s updated stats

What more can be said about his offensive success to date, really?

Merkley now has four goals and 28 assists, and his 32 points are good for a share of the lead in team scoring with Nate Schnarr. He continues to lead all OHL defensemen in scoring, on top of the assist success already mentioned. Additionally, he leads all defensemen with 19 primary points, a rank that drops to fourth in five-on-five play (10).

For the sake of comparison, his 1.39 point per game average is exactly level with highly-touted Ryan Suzuki, a draft-eligible forward recently ranked 9th by ISS in their November rankings.

Will Canada come calling?

At this point, one of the big questions surrounding Merkley is whether he will garner serious consideration for Canada’s national junior team. Canada’s World Junior hopefuls will begin their quest for back-to-back gold medals when gather for Selection Camp from Dec. 11-14 in Victoria, B.C.

Merkley represented Canada at the Under-18 tournament in earlier this year, but was not one of 40 players invited to the World Junior Summer Showcase this past summer. For those who may not be familiar with this tournament, the World Junior Championship begins Dec. 26 and features the best Under-20 players from the top 10 hockey countries.

Clearly the offensive talent is there and Merkley is definitely making strides in his defensive game. The San Jose Sharks thought enough of him to keep him around well into training camp, and he’s as bright a star as they come at his position in junior hockey this season.

But there’s still some questions about his maturity and all-around effort, and Hockey Canada tends to favor safer bets over higher-risk, high-reward kind of players.

An invite to camp is certainly warranted, but a World Junior spot may not be in the cards, to be quite honest.

Up next:

Friday, Nov. 30 vs. Oshawa Generals
Sunday, Dec. 2 vs. Kitchener Rangers