2018 NHL draft prospect profile #17: Ryan Merkley

LONDON, ON - NOVEMBER 12: Ryan Merkley #6 of the Guelph Storm skates away from a checking Alex Formenton #80 of the London Knights during an OHL game at Budweiser Gardens on November 12, 2016 in London, Ontario, Canada. The Knights defeated the Storm 4-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ON - NOVEMBER 12: Ryan Merkley #6 of the Guelph Storm skates away from a checking Alex Formenton #80 of the London Knights during an OHL game at Budweiser Gardens on November 12, 2016 in London, Ontario, Canada. The Knights defeated the Storm 4-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

With the NHL entry draft fast approaching, we at the The Canuck Way will leave no stone unturned when it comes to looking at each and every prospect that the Canucks might consider for their selection. Today, we look at Ryan Merkley, a player whose penchant for the risky leaves fans in awe and coaches hair turning grey.

Yesterday we looked at the safe pick. Today we look at a diametrically opposite player in Ryan Merkley. Merkley is like a vape, the smoke and the scents enthrall your senses, but you never know when the thing might explode in your face. He is what many consider to be the x-factor in this draft.

The classic low floor, high ceiling player. He has the skills to hang with the upper echelon of eligible prospects. The puck seems super glued to his stick when he is carrying it up the ice, and he has outstanding vision to find open lanes and make extraordinary passes. On one half of the ice, he looks like the second coming Bobby Orr.

On the other half he looks like the love child Luca Sbisa and Erik Gudbranson, because he is simply horrendous in the defensive zone. It seems that his only interest is playing in the offensive zone, an attitude that will not fly with any professional bench boss.

The question with Merkley is can you get through to him that the defensive end is just as important? If you can, then you sir have a player that is worth his weight in gold. But if not, then you have a player that is fool’s gold.

Let’s have a look at the stats to see if the risk is worth the reward.

The stats rundown

*Counting stats provided by EliteProspects

Height: 181 cm/5’11″

Weight: 77 kg/170 lbs

Birthdate: August 14, 2000

Position: Defenceman

Handedness: Right

Team (league): Guelph Storm (OHL)




#45 by NHL CENTRAL SCOUTING (North America)

#26 by Craig Button

#13 by Cam Robinson (Dobber Prospects)


63     13      54     67

His numbers look great for a draft eligible defenceman. Hell, if he was a forward those numbers would look pretty solid.

However, there is more to these numbers that meets the eye. Ryan Merkley feasted on the powerplay, where approximately 51% of his points came from. While this may certainly be of concern, what is interesting to note is that 11 out of his 13 goals came 5v5.

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Another interesting tidbit is that Merkley came in second on team scoring (Isaac Ratcliffe beat him by a single point). This shows that Merkley was able to generate a vast amount with any high-end talent around him. Just imagine what he could have produced playing on a strong team like the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds!

Merkley also showed well in the playoffs, producing 6 points in 6 games. In terms of sheer production, he deserves to be selected in the top ten of the draft. But alas, it is not that simple!

Scouting reports

Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst:

"Roving playmaker from the blueline with excellent speed and a superior understanding of his responsibilites as a jump-starter and attacker. (…) He is a commanding presence who carries the puck as well as he dishes it out, and you can always count on him to find the open man, especially back-door and off the rush. Merkley has a quick first step, but he also shifts speeds to routinely catch opponents flat footed. (…) He owns a hard, accurate shot with a big wind-up, Merkley gets enough mustard on long-distance wristers to force goalies to lose control of rebounds.Keeping him stapled to his own slot during opposing possessions above the hash marks seems next to impossible, and he will roam well above the circles to chase the puck. He has difficulty handling bigger forwards in the slot or in the corners, which might explain the floating, and there are times in his own end when he gets too cute with the puck. These issues can be fixed over time, but it remains to be seem how much NHL general managers are willing to overlook the defensive shortcomings of such a rare and gifted puck distributor."

Future Considerations:

"Merkley is a high-tempo, smart, offensive-minded defenseman…shifty, with elite skating ability…smooth transitions from forwards to backwards…possesses explosive acceleration, and makes plays at top end speeds…isn’t afraid to lead the rush, and hold onto the puck in hopes of creating a play in the offensive zone…vision up the ice is absolutely elite…impressive when quarterbacking the power play and doing a good job of making consistently accurate breakout passe…has a knack for getting the puck to the net through traffic with a quick, accurate release…a good job of judging when to cover the front of the net or to go pressure the puck-carrier behind the net…good job of tracking players across his zone and using his stick to close off their passing options and take away space…will need to hit the weight room and improve defensive zone play…very high ceiling but also some risk…has high-end NHL upside generating offense from the back-end"

What we think

In terms of the seventh overall selection, I don’t think its a smart investment. For such a high pick, Merkley is too much of a risk to take over the steadier defencemen available.

However, if Merkley is available when the Canucks are making their second round selection, I would hope and pray the Canucks select him. In fact I would go one step further and try to trade up within the second round to pick Merkley.

There’s a good chance that Merkley will be taken with a high second round pick because there a lot of teams who would love to have him, but wouldn’t want to associate their first round pick with him (even if it was a late one). The stigma of whiffing on a first round pick is far greater than that of a second, even if the selections are so close together. Merkley screams “boom or bust”, with the bust resonating far more with potential first round suitors.

Merkley brings the offensive skills from the back-end the Canucks so desperately crave. Assume the Canucks take a defenceman in the first round (good chance it’s either Noah Dobson, Evan Bouchard, or Adam Boqvist), and then follow up with Merkley in the second round.

Next: 2018 NHL draft profile #18: Barrett Hayton

Factor in Olli Juolevi, and now suddenly what was a weakness in the organization turns in to a major strength. The Canucks blueline could potentially be set for many years to come with a great mix of both defensive and offensive acumen. Merkley is the most polarizing player in the draft, and if the Canucks can acquire him without using the seventh overall selection, then they’d be taking a major step in the right direction.