The 5-foot-11 defenseman was maybe one of the most controversial potential first-round prospects, with his off-ice issues — mainly attitude-related, with public fights with coaching staff at the forefront and his unwillingness to play defense coming in second — causing the top-ten talent to fall drastically in mock drafts and predictions.
Ryan Merkley had interviews with 25 teams. I asked how many questioned him about his alleged attitude problems: "25 out of 25." To his credit, Merkley didn't shy away from the conversation— Ryan Kennedy (@THNRyanKennedy) June 2, 2018
His talent as an offensive defenseman is undeniable. The 17-year-old put up 67 points in 63 games with Guelph this past season and 55 points in 62 games in the 2016-17 season. IN the World Junior’s Championship, he tallied three assists in five games with Team Canada’s Under-18 squad.
An Oakville, Ontario native, he is a bit small for a defenseman, at under 6-foot, and only 170 pounds, but he’s still very young and his talent outweighs his size.
“Merkley has the potential to be classed as a ‘special’ player where size is not relevant,” Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting told NHL.com. “He possesses elite skating and quickness that allow him to make a difference on the play and he plays a very dynamic offensive game which, when combined with good decisions and competitive instincts, often translate well in draft consideration.”
Merkley still needs to develop his defensive skill, but will have time to do so. He’ll likely return to Guelph next season, but may be in the NHL sooner rather than later.
In a way, he’s a Doug Wilson pick, in that many had Merkley falling out of the first round entirely. But given that it was based on attitude more than talent — where he’s widely regarded as top-ten — it’s ultimately not the safe pick that Wilson tends to make in the first round. He indicated that he was looking for a “difference-maker” in this draft and with Merkley, he may have found it.