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One of the most polarizing prospects in the 2018 NHL Draft, Ryan Merkley has had an interesting time with the Guelph Storm. The first overall pick in the 2016 OHL Draft, Merkley had a tremendous first season while playing for a rebuilding Guelph team. He put up 55 points in 62 games to lead all OHL rookies, and take home the Rookie of the Year award. Merkley followed that up with six points in five games, helping Canada to gold at the Hlinka.
The offensive production has continued this season, as Merkley put up 13 goals and 67 points in 63 games for Guelph. He added six points in six playoff games. Despite all the offensive production, Merkley has attracted his fair share of criticism from the Guelph faithful though. Some of the complaints heard have included his work ethic and consistency, especially at the defensive end of the ice. There are times when Merkley clearly appears frustrated out on the ice. Add in some discipline issues, including suspensions and he’s attracted equal amounts praise and criticism. He will play for Team Canada at the IIHF Under 18s.
Ryan Merkley Scouting Report
Defence — shoots Right
Born August 14th, 2000 — Mississauga, Ontario
Height 5’11” — Weight 170 lbs [180 cm/77 kg]
Merkley is a dynamic offensive defenseman, with great skating in both directions. He seems to glide above the ice. Merkley is extremely fast, and he reaches that top speed in just a few strides with excellent acceleration. His tremendous edge work, pivots and agility allow him to cover a ton of ice. He can lead the rush or pinch in at the blue line and still recover and get back defensively. His skating may even lead to him taking too many chances at times, believing he can always recover. Merkley’s strong footwork allows him to walk the line at the point, opening up passing and shooting lanes. He could be stronger in his lower body, leading to better balance, being stronger on the puck, and better in battles along the boards.
Merkley has the skating and passing skill to start the transition game. He is a talented puck handler who can carry the puck out of his own end and lead the transition game. Merkley is also able to make a long home-run pass in transition. He can also quarterback the play from the point. Merkley has great vision and passing skill. He can thread tape-to-tape passes through tight areas, and set up teammates for scoring chances.
Merkley also has an excellent point shot and loves to let it go from the point. His slap shot is powerful and accurate; and his wrist and snap shots also have quick releases. Merkley has a knack for opening up shooting lanes and getting his shot on net through traffic. He also keeps his shots low, allowing teammates to set up screens, get tip-ins, and pounce on rebounds.
Merkley’s defensive game is the big question mark. He must get stronger, as well as improve his positioning and decision making in the defensive end. Most concerning is the fact that he does not seem to show the same intensity in the defensive end that he does in the offensive end. He can appear to cheat at times, trying to generate offence. Other times he has the “controller disconnected” moments, where he seems to be watching the play happen instead of being involved. Coaching this out of him will need to be a priority for his NHL club.
Projection and Comparison
The offensive game and the skating make Merkley an intriguing prospect. He is very much a boom or bust prospect. The skills to be a number one defenseman are there. However, attitude issues and his defensive lapses must be considered real red flags. The team that takes Merkley could be getting a real steal, or they could be wasting a first round pick. In terms of playing style, Merkley’s game is reminiscent of Mike Green. This is not a talent comparison, but merely a stylistic one.
The following is a compilation of some of the many highlight packages of Merkley that are available on youtube.
Check back tomorrow for the next prospect on our draft board.
Embed from Getty Images
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)