Today, Finland and the United States announced their preliminary rosters that will take part in their respective camps for the 2018 World Junior Championships Under-20. Both countries have a couple of Ontario Hockey League players on their rosters, but the majority will come Wednesday when Hockey Canada announces their preliminary roster.
Toronto, ON – The Ontario Hockey League today announced that defenceman Ryan Merkley of the Guelph Storm is the 2016-17 recipient of the Emms Family Award presented to the OHL’s Rookie of the Year.
Merkley led all OHL rookies with 55 points in 62 games played scoring 12 goals and 43 assists positioning him eighth overall among all OHL defenders. He became the first rookie in franchise history to lead the team in scoring, and is the first OHL defenceman since London’s Rick Corriveau in 1987-88 to lead all rookies in scoring.
“It is an honour to be selected as the OHL Rookie of the Year,” said Merkley. “Knowing that there are so many talented first year players, makes the award extra special. I would like to thank my teammates and the Storm organization for all their help and support.”
The 16-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., selected first overall by the Storm in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection, is just the second member of the organization to earn the award following fellow Storm first overall pick Jeff O’Neill during the 1992-93 season. Merkley’s 55 points are the most by a Storm 16-year-old since O’Neill’s 79 during his first campaign.
“Being selected as OHL Rookie of the Year is a special honour, but one that Ryan richly deserves,” said Mike Kelly, Guelph’s departing General Manager. “Even as a 16-year-old, Ryan was a critical part of a very young Guelph Storm Hockey team, and he provided our fans, and fans throughout the OHL with some spectacular hockey memories. As good as Ryan was this past year, he will be even more special in upcoming seasons.”
Merkley joined the OHL after earning GTHL Player of the Year honours with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens and made an immediate impact with recognition as the OHL’s Rookie of the Month for October and December and represented Team Canada Red at the 2016 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Sault Ste. Marie. He recorded 16 multi-point performances during 2016-17 and was voted third in both the Best Playmaker and Best Stickhandler categories in the Western Conference Coaches Poll.
First presented in 1973, Emms Family Award recipients include Wayne Gretzky (Sault Ste. Marie 1977-78), Joe Thornton (Sault Ste. Marie 1995-96), Rick Nash (London 2000-01), Taylor Hall (Windsor 2007-08), and most recently Alex DeBrincat (Erie 2014-15), and Alex Nylander (Mississauga 2015-16). Merkley is the eighth player to earn the Emms Family Award after also earning the Jack Ferguson Award as the first overall pick in the OHL Priority Selection beginning with O’Neill, Patrick O’Sullivan (Mississauga 2001-02), Rob Schremp (Mississauga 2002-03), John Tavares (Oshawa 2005-06), Aaron Ekblad (Barrie 2011-12), Connor McDavid (Erie 2012-13), and Travis Konecny (Ottawa 2013-14).
The Emms Family Award was donated by Leighton “Hap” Emms, former owner of the Barrie, Niagara Falls, and St. Catharines OHL franchises. The award is selected by all 20 member club General Managers. Teams were asked to submit only one nominee from their own club for consideration on the ballot and were not permitted to vote for the player from their own hockey club. Players received five points for a first vote, three points for a second place vote, and one point for a third place vote.
Merkley earned 75 of a possible 95 voting points ahead of forward Akil Thomas of the Niagara IceDogs who finished second with 44 voting points and forward Allan McShane of the Oshawa Generals who finished in third with 24 voting points.
The Emms Family Award will be formally presented to Merkley at the OHL’s annual Awards Ceremony at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on Thursday June 8. He will be the OHL’s nominee for CHL Rookie of the Year to be announced at the Mastercard Memorial Cup on Saturday May 27.
Merkley was also announced to the OHL’s First All-Rookie Team alongside NHL Draft prospect Eemeli Rasanen of the Kingston Frontenacs on defence, and goaltender Jacob Ingham of the Mississauga Steelheads. First team forwards include McShane at centre, Thomas at right wing, and Kingston’s Linus Nyman at left wing. Second team honours went to NHL Draft prospects Adam Ruzicka of the Sarnia Sting, Alex Formenton of the London Knights, and Greg Meireles of the Kitchener Rangers at forward, while 16-year-olds Giovanni Vallati of Kitchener, and Owen Lalonde of the Sudbury Wolves comprise the defence. Second team goaltending honours went to Matthew Villalta of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
The OHL All-Rookie Teams were also selected by the OHL’s General Managers. Players were voted on initially by position within their conference receiving five points for a first place vote, three for a second place vote, and one for a third. Top vote getters in each position made up the final ballot that was then circulated to all 20 teams.
2016-17 OHL All-Rookie Teams (voting points in brackets):
First Team: Centre – Allan McShane, Oshawa Generals (85) Left Wing – Linus Nyman, Kingston Frontenacs (73) Right Wing – Akil Thomas, Niagara IceDogs (93) Defence – Ryan Merkley, Guelph Storm (91) Defence – Eemeli Rasanen, Kingston Frontenacs (74) Goaltender – Jacob Ingham, Mississauga Steelheads (73)
Centre – Adam Ruzicka, Sarnia Sting (51) Left Wing – Alex Formenton, London Knights (38) Right Wing – Greg Meireles, Kitchener Rangers (39) Defence – Giovanni Vallati, Kitchener Rangers (44) Defence – Owen Lalonde, Sudbury Wolves (39) Goaltender – Matthew Villalta, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (70)
Kingston Frontenacs’ defenceman Eemeli Rasanen represented his native Finland at both the World Hockey Challenge Under-17 and at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. After watching him in the latter tournament, there was no doubt that Rasanen was a monster physically while at the same time he had to make huge strides in other areas, such as his skating- which is more awkward than anything.
The Frontenacs selected Rasanen in the second round, 113th overall in the Canadian Hockey League’s Import Draft in 2016. He was also selected in the 2015 USHL Draft by the Sioux City Musketeers in the twelfth round, 194 overall.
Rasanen made the jump to the Ontario Hockey League and it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows early on. He looked to be having a difficult time transitioning to North America, but that faded quickly. He appears to have worked hard on his skating, but still has some ways to go, especially his technique and adding even more speed. At the Hlinka, he was beaten to the outside with speed easily. Now, he’s using his long reach and a quicker step to prevent being beaten.
There’s no question Rasanen’s physical game. He uses his 6’6”, 205-pound frame effectively. In fact, he looks as if he enjoys and relishes physical contact. He has the physical strength to knock players over on the rush, pin opponents along the wall, and wins battles defending his goal. He’s improved on his transition game and makes a good first pass.
While Rasanen doesn’t lack hockey IQ, it appears average. He won’t dazzle you with puck rushes, but after making his first pass, he’s showing more willingness to jump into the play, but he does it intelligently and picks his spots.
Rasanen has showed a steady improvement offensively. He has four goals and seventeen assists through forty-four games this season but is getting more involved as of late. He has a hard-booming shot from the point but has a difficult time finding the space to get it away.
Rasanen projects to be a shut-down defenceman who can put up a little offence but patience will be required as he is a project.
On NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings, Rasanen was ranked 20th among OHL skaters and 57th among North American skaters.