By: Paul Osborne
There were more than a few eyebrows raised when the San Jose Sharks selected Guelph Storm defenceman Ryan Merkley 21stoverall pick in the 2018 NHL draft. There isn’t a scout alive that wouldn’t acknowledge the incredible offensive instincts of the young man but there were worries about his attitude, the ability to control his emotions, and his lack of attention to detail in the defensive end. But San Jose looked past those potential flaws and called his name. From that day it now appears they put a plan in place to help the 18-year-old work through those issues so his offensive talent could take centre stage.
Merkley went to training camp early and they placed him with Norris trophy winner Brent Burns. He lived with him, went to the rink with him and started to get a taste of what it is like to be a professional hockey player.
“I was excited to get down there early and stay with Burnsy,” said Merkley. “It was pretty cool. A pretty cool person to look up to and see what he does in his daily routine. I know they want to mentor me and help me out a lot on and off the ice (because) I have areas to work on for sure. To learn from those guys is great.”
“Just watching them on and off the ice. Burnsy is working out before and after practice and he’s going out early on the ice too. Just sitting there and watching them all in practice … (Marc-Edouard) Vlasic, (Erik) Karlsson, Burns, they’re all great defencemen. It’s a different level for sure, everything is so clean and so crisp.”
It is a huge investment on the Sharks part. A first round pick is the future of your franchise so ensuring that Merkley gets off on the right foot is crucial. The fact they were quick to sign him was also an indication they wanted to be able to have the final say when it comes to attitude, effort and growth even as he continued his hockey apprenticeship in Guelph.
“I expect him to be amongst the elite if not the elite defenceman in the league and I think he expects that of himself,” said Guelph head coach and GM George Burnett. “I know in getting feedback from (San Jose) there is a plan there and they were thrilled with his progress. “
And it was fun for the young defenceman.
“It was unreal,* said Merkley. “You’re on the ice with (Calgary star Johnny) Gaudreau and (the Ducks Corey) Perry is coming down on you. You watch these guys growing up and now you’re playing against them. It’s pretty cool.”
As for the young defenseman’s best moment?
“Probably my first shift in an exhibition game where I rubbed out Getzlaf, I thought that was pretty cool. He’s a big boy, I was pretty scared for the rest of the game,” he said with a laugh.
From the Land of Oz … The Storm won both their games on the weekend downing Owen Sound 6-2 with a five-goal outburst in the third period. 2018 draft picks Daniil Chayka (1st) and Ty Collins (2nd) each scored their first OHL goals. In Saginaw Saturday they cruised out to a 5-0 lead before needing Cedric Ralph to complete his hat trick in overtime to secure an ugly 6-5 win. Guelph goaltender Nico Daws picked up his first win of the season. In that game Merkley had a horrendous giveaway right in front of his net with less than 10 seconds remaining to set-up the game-tying goal. Now to be fair he had to be exhausted with all his travel from San Jose but it was also another reminder that sometimes the safe, boring play is the right move deep in your own end with the game on the line.