By: Stephanie Coratti
For Ryan Merkley, having his name called 21stoverall by the San Jose Sharks in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft this past June left him with a unique feeling – a sense of relief.
“Being up there, just waiting…” Merkley remembered of his big day in Dallas. “You’re up there, sweating a lot, thinking about everybody… thinking about who’s still left, who’s already gone… it was just a big relief.”
Certainly a word that isn’t often used to describe such an accomplishment, but for the then 17-year-old defenseman, it’s nothing but fitting following a 2017-18 Season that was left defined by so many things, and so many unanswered questions.
“It was obviously nerve-wracking,” the Oakville, Ontario native said of the experience. “I didn’t know when I was gonna’ go… it was a tough time, but it ended up the way it was supposed to, I think.”
Outside of the nerves, the questions, and of course, the relief, Merkley’s often subtle good nature, easygoing humour, and clear passion is nothing but obvious when given the chance to reflect.
“It goes pretty quickly,” the five-foot-11, 170-pound Storm blueliner laughed in response to what he remembered after he heard his name called. “It’s so hard to describe it all, it’s a blur… we’re sitting there, my parents were in disbelief, in shock… I think everyone started crying. Then walking down the stairs, I definitely blacked out I think… I don’t remember much. My body was numb, it was just exciting… you don’t know what to say really.”
Just a kid who realized a dream, one could say.
But for Merkley, the entire experience meant just as much.
“It was definitely hanging out with all your family and friends,” he said of what made the weekend complete. “Everyone who came down, it was nice… lots of people there, and we had fun, walked around the city, hanging out in the hotel with everyone… it was pretty cool.”
Following the draft, Merkley earned opportunity with the Sharks, signing his first NHL contract after an impressive development camp, only to later be one of the last cuts made from training camp in September.
“It was unreal,” Merkley explained, adding that getting to live with big-name, and big-beard defenseman Brent Burns was a great experience. “Getting to meet all those guys, and then the trade for Erik Karlsson happened while I was there so that was pretty cool… seeing him walk in, guys who have won a Norris Trophy, right?”
Merkley continued to list off names such as Joe Thornton and Evander Kane – names who were “all good guys, all really nice,” said Merkley – and who spent time talking hockey with the young prospect, adding to the whole experience.
“It’s how hard they work,” he said of his biggest take away. “They’re there for three hours of the day, and they work as hard as they can, before and after practice, the way they prepare their bodies, treat their bodies… it’s everything.”
Now, back in the Royal City, Merkley’s often overlooked passion is once again obvious when given the chance to reflect.
“A Memorial Cup,” the former Storm first overall pick said quickly in response to his goals for this season. “We’ve got the skill, the age, and we can put it together. I think we should be able to contend, to be the best in the OHL.”
Continuing to look back, a sense of humour isn’t far behind.
“I get advice every day,” the 18-year-old laughed when asked of the best advice he’s received. “But, I would say, just to worry about yourself, be you, have fun and… control what you can control.”
And advice he’d give to his 16-year-old self? The humour strikes again.
“I’d tell him a lot of things,” Merkley quipped before adding: “To tune out the noise, and that everything works out the way it’s supposed to.”
Beyond the good-natured jokes, and the overall drive to achieve his goals, Merkley is just as quick to thank those who have got him to this very point.
“My parents (Kyle and Joanne) and the sacrifices they’ve made, I can never repay them…” he said. “My two supportive sisters (Lauren and Karley), all of my friends and teammates – they’ve all been there from the start.”