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Storm Watch: Ryan Merkley rises to top of scoring list among OHL defensemen

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Sep 25, 2018; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames left wing Johnny Gaudreau (13) and San Jose Sharks defenseman Ryan Merkley (6) battle for the puck during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Guelph is getting by with more than a little help from their elite defenseman.

The Storm played three games last week, posting a record of 1-0-2. That this team wasn’t able to amass more than four points from that trio of games can’t really be laid on Ryan Merkley, though; the San Jose Sharks prospect recorded eight assists in that span. As a result, he not only took over the scoring lead among Ontario Hockey League defensemen, he also rose among the league leaders in helpers.

Guelph’s Week That Was

The Storm kicked the week off with a rare weeknight game — come on, some of these kids have school the next morning! Guelph went into Kitchener and emerged with an impressive 6-2 win over the rival Rangers, a game in which Merkley recorded a pair of power play assists. The first was a primary helper on a goal scored by Isaac Ratcliffe (Philadelphia Flyers prospect), and the other was a secondary assist on a Keegan Stevenson tally.

Next up was a tilt against the Greyhounds in Sault Ste. Marie, a 7.5-hour trip by bus from Guelph, it should be noted. The Storm fell to the Western Conference leading club, blowing a three-goal lead and allowing the Greyhounds to pick up the 4-3 win in overtime. Again, Merkley recorded a pair of assists, both secondary in nature on goals scored by Liam Hawel (Dallas Stars prospect) and Cam Hillis (Montreal Canadiens prospect).

As you can see from the highlights, Guelph really just failed to seal the deal, allowing the Soo to take over in the third period.

This continued a troubling trend, as the Storm coughed up a pair of 3-0 leads last week, as well. One of those blown leads came at the hands of the Greyhounds, a game Guelph won on a Merkley overtime strike.

“That loss is fresh in our minds,” said Greyhounds coach John Dean. “When a top team beats you, for your own confidence you want to let them know that you’re determined to stay on top.” Holding on to that lead on the road would have been a major statement for Guelph, and this will be looked back upon as an opportunity wasted.

The week ended with a game against Saginaw on Saturday, following a more modest 3.5-hour drive from the Soo. The Spirit emerged from the hard fought battle with a 5-4 shootout victory, but Merkley was very impressive in this one, registering the primary assist on all four of Guelph’s goals, three of which came in 5-on-5 play.

One was scored by Nate Schnarr (Arizona Coyotes prospect), two came on goals by Zach Poirier, and the last was recorded via this nifty pass to Dom Commisso, who scored his first for the team.

While Guelph picked up a couple of road points, they easily could have returned to the Royal City with more. Larry knows what’s up:

Merkley’s Updated Stats

As mentioned above, Merkley now leads all OHL defensemen in scoring with 3 goals and 19 assists in 15 games. Those 19 assists are good for third league-wide, four behind Austen Keating of the Ottawa 67s and two behind the Soo’s Morgan Frost (Flyers prospect).

These are impressive totals for a player who missed the first couple games of the season after hanging back at Sharks training camp for longer than expected. In fact, he sits second on the Storm in total points to Scharr’s 24 (11 goals and 13 assists in 17 games).

10 of Merkley’s assists have been primary, putting him one back of defenseman Declan Chisolm of the Peterborough Petes (Winnipeg Jets prospect). Both players are level with 13 primary points, however, thanks to Merkley’s extra goal.

While Merkley is averaging 1.47 points per game overall, his 0.8 mark at 5-on-5 puts him third among OHL defensemen, behind Saginaw’s Bode Wilde (New York Islanders prospect) and Adam Boqvist (Chicago Blackhawks prospect) of the London Knights, both of whom are highly-touted junior players in their own right.

As a reminder, Storm coach and general manager George Burnett expected Merkley to be at the top of the heap this season, and so far, so good.

What’s Next for Merkley & Co.?

Through 15 games, Guelph’s record stands at 9-4-3, good for 22 points and a share of the Midwets Division lead with the Knights. London, however, received a huge boost with the returns of Evan Bouchard and Alex Formenton from the Edmonton Oilers and Ottawa Senators, respectively. The OHL powerhouse received a serious injection of talent as a result, and makes the West all that more difficult.

Overall, Guelph sits sixth in the OHL with a 0.647 win percentage.

Up next:

Friday, Nov. 9 vs. Barrie Colts
Saturday Nov. 10 @ Windsor Spitfires