Weight: 163 pounds
Date of birth: August 14, 2000
Hometown: Mississauga, Ontario
OHL Draft: First overall pick, 2016 Priority Selection
In one word, that is Guelph Storm defenceman Ryan Merkley. When NHL Central Scouting released its preseason players to watch list, and its updated list in November, Merkley and the London Knights’ Evan Bouchard were the only two defenders you’d find rated as an A Prospect – typically a first-round pick.
Their styles are on the opposite end of the spectrum, and yet there are some similarities between the pair. When it comes down to decision time, it may just boil down to projection when choosing between the two. You can find my thoughts on Bouchard here.
Merkley played his Minor Midget hockey for the Toronto Junior Canadiens during the 2015-2016 season. He notched 7 goals and 37 assists in 33 games as the leader for the Canadiens. He would add one goal and three assists in 6 games for the Canadiens at the OHL Cup.
Merkley would also represent Team GTHL at the OHL Gold Cup helping them capture gold. In 5 games, he scored once and added seven assists. He was named the GTHL player of the year and the Storm would make him the first overall pick at the 2016 Priority Draft.
Merkley burst onto the OHL scene a season ago and he didn’t disappoint. In 62 games, he scored 12 goals and 43 assists. He would be named to the OHL First All-Rookie Team, finished first among rookies in assists (43) and points (55) and captured the Emms Family Award as Rookie of the Year.
Merkley would also represent Canada at the World Hockey Challenge Under-17 with Canada Red. He would score twice for Canada in five games.
This season began with Merkley representing Canada once more, this time capturing gold at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial. In the five games the Canadians played, Merkley finished up with six assists and doing his part in helping Canada win gold.
This OHL season, Merkley has picked up right where he left off. At the time of writing this, Merkley sits tied for second among all OHL defenders in scoring with 8 goals and 28 assists in 29 games, behind only Sean Durzi of the Owen Sound Attack (14 goals, 26 assists) and tied with Bouchard (10 goals, 26 assists).
So where do we stand with Merkley?
To begin with, Merkley is a phenomenal skater with excellent speed. He’s strong on his edges with an excellent ability to change direction in a split second. He can beat most players north-south and east-west. He’s also an excellent passer who excels at making quick, accurate short passes or long stretch passes out of his zone.
This makes Merkley very good at clearing the d-zone, but it is not always picture perfect. He’s sometimes caught forcing the play, one that is not always there. He is still prone to turning over the puck, but there have been improvements in that area. A season ago, you could attribute it to playing on the Western Conference’s last place team and trying to do it all himself. He’s a very smart hockey player so he should be able to get that out of his game.
There will always be the size question when it comes to Merkley. The Storm list him at a generous 5’11” and 163 pounds. Adding strength and mass will be critical for him. While his superb skating allows him some good defensive coverage, he can be outmuscled. When he does turn over the puck, the lack of strength causes him to sometimes take needless and foolish penalties. Yet, his defensive positioning is solid, and he has an active stick which he uses extremely well. It’s fair to have concerns about his minus-14 on a squad that is minus-2 overall.
Offensively, Merkley’s talents are bordering on elite. As mentioned, he’s an excellent passer. His skating allows him to walk the line with ease and create and find lanes to setup teammates. He possesses an excellent shot from the point that he can get off quickly, accurately and with purpose. It can only get heavier as he adds strength. And he’s perfected the slap-pass.
Merkley is an elite powerplay quarterback. He’s an intelligent player who is able to read the play easily and react quickly. With the extra space, he’s able to find the open man. His skating allows him to get into the open space to receive a pass and use his shot. Just how effective is he on the powerplay? Well, two of his eight goals have come with the extra man while twenty of his twenty-eight assists have been on the man advantage.
I don’t want to make it sound as though all Merkley is, is a powerplay specialist. He has the tools and mindset to be much more than that. The question NHL teams will be asking themselves is “how likely is it that he achieves that, and are there other defencemen more likely to achieve their potential?”
This is the problem with the inexact science known as drafting. Trying to project potential. Time is the only real answer to the question general managers will be asking their scouts in draft meetings come June.
At least its fun trying.
Eliteprospects.com hockey stat of Ryan Merkley