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Top 25 Sharks Under 25: No. 5 Ryan Merkley is a game-changer

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The young defenseman out of Guelph has a very high ceiling.

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 is no secret that the San Jose Sharks have not done a great job of drafting and developing defensemen in recent years. I feel like I have read that somewhere very recently. It is possible that this could be changing, with the development of Mario Ferraro and possibly Jeremy Roy, if he can stay healthy. But the prospect who is most likely to change this is Ryan Merkley.

We here at Fear the Fin Hockey Blogging, Advanced Chemicals, & Fishmongers, LLC. are extremely excited that Doug Wilson called Ryan Merkley’s name on the Friday night in June. In the SB Nation NHL Mock Draft, we gleefully selected Ryan Merkley at 21 overall, and clearly Doug Wilson read that post and agreed with us. And over the past three months, we have spilled a fair bit of digital ink covering Merkley. Sie wrote his draft profile here, and Ian has written about Merkley here and here. And — spoiler alert — there will be many more updates on the Guelph Storm defenseman here throughout the upcoming season.

The main reason that we are excited about Ryan Merkley is that drafting him was out of character for Doug Wilson and the San Jose Sharks. We have grown accustomed to watching Wilson use first round picks on safe prospects, rather than those with the highest upside. For instance, in 2015 he drafted Timo Meier, when Matt Barzal was still on the board. In 2017, the Sharks used their first round pick on Josh Norris, while Kailer Yamamoto, Klim Kostin and Eeli Tolvanen were still available.

But not this year. In 2018, the Sharks used their first round pick to select a player with game-breaking potential. Ryan Merkley is the most skilled Sharks’ prospect since Logan Couture. For real.

With 67 points in 63 games, Merkley was third in scoring among OHL defensemen (behind Evan Bouchard and Nicolas Hague) in his draft year. His betweenness score indicates that he was driving play, in a significant fashion.

This is very good.
https://public.tableau.com/profile/clair.cornish#!/vizhome/Betweenness2018DraftEligibleComparisonTool/Sheet2

What we like

His offensive prowess. Corey Pronman of The Athletic says, “He’s the best offensive player on his OHL team while being one of the youngest players in his 2018 draft class. He’s been one of the best players in his age group for years.“

But Merkley’s passing is also superlative. “Merkley is one of the best passers I’ve ever seen at his age. He has the vision to attempt and execute plays most players don’t think about and has the composure to move the puck at an elite level. When he’s on his game, he makes everyone around him look better.“ (Again, Pronman)

We really like his skating. Merkley isn’t blazingly fast. But he is a nimble and efficient skater, whose edge-work is impressive.

Hockey IQ. Passing. Skating. If that doesn’t remind you of somebody whose name is a Spoonerism if Ban Doyle, then I don’t know what to say.

Areas of improvement

The obvious one here is that Merkley has been accused of having a bad attitude. He was suspended for three games after slashing an opposing player. Some have criticized his commitment to defense. These might be legitimate criticisms of his game, but think about how dumb you were at age 16 or 17. Seriously. Reflect on the dumb things you did in high school and now imagine them being broadcast across all of Canada and the parts of the USA that care about hockey. To his credit, it seems that Merkley is aware of his shortcomings and is doing his best to overcome them.

“He looked us right in the eye, didn’t deny things that he would do differently,” Wilson told the Santa Cruz Sentinel. “Which is great. He’s just a young kid.”

Merkley will need to mature, both physically and emotionally, before he realizes potential.

Highlight

Here’s over ten minutes of sweet Merkley content: