By Aaron Vickers/NHL.com correspondent
Size on defense hasn’t been an issue of late for NHL teams, a fact not lost on defenseman prospect Ryan Merkley.
In the 2017 NHL Draft, the Dallas Stars selected defenseman Miro Heiskanen (6-foot, 170 pounds) with the No. 3 pick, and the Colorado Avalanche chose defenseman Cale Makar (5-11, 180) at No. 4.
Merkley (5-11, 170) was one of nine defensemen to earn an “A” rating in NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary players to watch list, and is a projected No. 1 pick, for the 2018 draft in Dallas on June 22-23.
“I just want to go as high as possible,” said Merkley, 17, who has nine points (two goals, seven assists) in six games with Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League this season. “I want to challenge for No. 1. That’s what I want to do. I’m a competitor. I want to be the best. I want to prove myself.
“It’s nice to see those guys go as high as they went. It gives you hope.”
He also has the skill to overcome his stature.
“Merkley has the potential to be classed as a ‘special’ player where size is not relevant,” said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. “He possesses elite skating and quickness that allow him to make a difference on the play and he plays a very dynamic offensive game which, when combined with good decisions and competitive instincts, often translate well in draft consideration.”
Merkley also knows a thing or two about the draft process. He was, after all, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection.
This go-round has a familiar feel.
“It’s kind of the same thing,” he said. “I’m going against the best in my region there. It’s the same thing, just a bigger stage. One step at a time, right? One challenge at a time.