Ryan Merkley

Sharks prospects to watch: Why Ryan Merkley still has time to develop

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USATSI

Sharks prospects to watch: Why Ryan Merkley still has time to develop

Editor's Note: This week, NBC Sports California will highlight five different Sharks prospects to watch heading into the 2019-20 season. Some have a chance to make the NHL roster as soon as this year, while others face critical years in their development. We continue with Ryan Merkley. 

Doug Wilson’s first 2018 NHL Draft pick was a one-timer from the blue line. The Sharks general manager conceded that fact last June after selecting super-talented, equally mercurial defenseman Ryan Merkley No. 21 overall.

Wilson’s gamble raised some eyebrows, viewed as both high risk and high reward.

“We were looking for difference makers,” Wilson said (via Bay Area News Group) shorty after making the pick. “At the No. 21 spot, you have to take a little bit more risk. We spent a lot of time with this kid and we feel comfortable.”

Wilson was instantly cool with Merkley’s skill, as an offensive-minded defenseman and true blue-chip prospect. He grew comfortable adding a teenager with on-ice transgressions to his name, some history of insubordination and a selfish reputation.

The Sharks got a top-10 talent far lower in the draft order, and would glean great value if Merkley realizes his vast potential.

There’s a slim chance dividends pay out this upcoming NHL season, if Merkley can floor folks in training camp and crack the Sharks regular-season roster. That’s a big if and a big ask for someone so young, with so many established pros at his position. Here’s what to expect from someone many consider the Sharks’ best prospect.

Ryan Merkley

Draft year, position: 2018, first round (No. 21 overall)
Position: Defenseman
Shoots: Right
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 170 pounds
2018-19 team: Peterborough Petes (OHL)

Skill set

Strip away, for a moment, Merkley’s many red flags. Focus only on his talent, and one thing becomes crystal clear: The kid belongs.

Sure, there are lapses on the defensive end and he’s a smidge undersized, but Merkley has all the talent and skill required of NHL defensemen capable of impacting both ends of the ice. He has great vision and offensive instincts, accumulating points faster than most as his position. Merkley also is an accurate passer and playmaker who thrives going forward.

There’s little question he needs work on the other end, as he must prove consistently effective there and not put pucks in harm’s way.

Training-camp proving ground

Merkley doesn’t have to dominate in his second NHL training camp. He must, however, show growth and development from last preseason to this one, a stretch spent mostly in Canadian major junior in the Ontario Hockey League. San Jose has put significant effort into Merkley’s development, well beyond ice work, and wants to see progress.

Merkley lived with Brent Burns during the Sharks’ prospect development camp last summer, allowing him to see firsthand how hard the former Norris Trophy winner works and trains to maintain greatness. Burns and Merkley were drafted years apart, but in roughly the same point in the first round. They grew up in Ontario towns just two hours part and play similar styles of hockey at the same position, so emulating Burns would help fast-track Merkley’s development process.

Best-case scenario

Merkley’s a right-handed defenseman. Same for Burns. And Erik Karlsson. So, yeah. There are some roadblocks impeding significant minutes with the Sharks now and for the foreseeable future.

The soon-to-be 19-year old could still force his way onto the NHL team’s roster by showcasing great skill constantly enough to take a spot on the third defense pairing. He’d likely have to wrestle the gig from Tim Heed, who just re-upped with the club on a one-year deal.

Merkley would add instant offense to that group, just as Burns and Karlsson do on the top two pairs. NHL experience could possibly accelerate his development playing with and against the world’s best, making him a contributor with great upside on an entry-level contract or a more valuable commodity on the trade market.

Worst-case scenario

Great talent lays fallow, with on-ice efforts overshadowed by more of the antics that decreased his draft stock and built an unwelcome reputation.

The Sharks want progress from the prodigious talent, even if a loaded defensive depth chart doesn’t have room for him yet. A rough showing in Sharks training camp and a ho-hum season in junior hockey -- any signs of stagnancy or regression, really -- would be a disappointment for someone the Sharks believe can be a quality NHL player.

Realistic expectations

Merkley stuck around quite a while during last year’s training camp, even after the junior season started. The Sharks wanted him to learn from Burns and Karlsson and a locker-room culture known for its professionalism. They added him to the San Jose Barracuda roster on an amateur tryout late last season, after the junior season was over.

Merkley should’ve gained valuable experience there that he can build upon in 2019-20, a season he likely will spend in the OHL with a chance to represent Canada at the World Juniors this winter.

[RELATED: Can Sharks' Ferraro go straight from college to NHL?]

That isn’t a terrible thing. The Sharks want him to play, and he could get more from significant ice time in junior over being the Sharks’ sixth or seventh defender.

Merkley should be better now, with last year’s seasoning and a trade in the OHL now behind him. His best remains ahead. The teenager should post big numbers this season, grow stronger defensively and be ready to validate Wilson’s gamble the following year.

Sharks notebook: Prospects quickly making impression at development camp

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USATSI

Sharks notebook: Prospects quickly making impression at development camp

SAN JOSE -- How the Sharks' prospects perform during this week's development camp might not bear much weight on who makes the NHL roster in October.

If anything, it serves as more of a "getting to know you" event.

But San Jose's development camp scrimmage Wednesday did, however, give Sharks and Barracuda coaches an early look at new players and served as a check-in for prospects who've spent the past year with their junior teams.

Not to mention a sneak peek at how these players could look at the AHL and NHL levels.

"You can say what you want about it being a 'development' camp, but I think it's an evaluation also, of guys and where they're at and where you see them down the road," Barracuda coach Roy Sommer said after the scrimmage. "It gives you a pretty good picture of what the future looks like."

Even though Wednesday's scrimmage was just that, the future for some of San Jose's top prospects already is looking pretty bright.

Top forward prospects impressing

Forwards Sasha Chmelevski and Ivan Chekhovich already were two prospects the Sharks were excited to have in their system. 

That excitement was turned up a notch during Wednesday's scrimmage when the two, paired up with forward Lean Bergmann, exuded almost instantaneous chemistry.

"The scrimmage had a pretty good pace to it, but those two guys stood out," Sommer said. "Both of them I think will be really good players at the American League level."

Both skaters spent brief stints with the Barracuda since being drafted by San Jose, but they hadn't spent much on-ice time together before Wednesday.

Chmelevski acknowledged it was nice to find that on-ice dynamic so close to the start of camp.

"That was pretty much the first time we've played as a line," the 20-year-old center said. "Our chemistry was great today, and I really liked the way we played."

Russian winger Chekhovich is coming off a monster season for Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the QMJHL, and Southern California product Chmelevski recently tallied seven points for Team USA in the World Junior's competition.

Needless to say, this current go-round together at development camp is going a bit smoother than when they first played with the Barracuda a few years ago. 

"When we both came to the Barracuda a couple of years ago, we didn't really know what to expect," Chmelevski said. "Me and him, we really got along well, and obviously he's a great player. I think there's a lot of similarities to our game, and he's a good guy to be around. So, it's definitely fun reuniting with him in camp."

Both players already have created some buzz as being Barracuda players who could get a look with the big club. Chmelevski said his goal for the summer is to keep building on his game, no matter for which squad he plays.

"Regardless of where I do play this year, I just want to keep improving my game," Chmelevski added. "Just prove that I deserve to be here."

Ferraro receives tips from former teammate

Blueliner Mario Ferraro was paying close attention to the Sharks when they played the Avalanche in the second round of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs. Not just because he was San Jose's second-round pick in the 2017 draft. But because his former University of Massachusetts-Amherst teammate, Cale Makar, was playing for Colorado.

When asked if he'd had any contact with Makar during that time, Ferraro laughed.

"During [the playoffs] I think he was pretty dialed in, so I didn't talk to him as much," he said with a grin. "But after, I asked him a few questions."

The left-handed defenseman admitted, however, that watching a teammate from afar play in the NHL gave him some perspective.

"It builds a lot of confidence in myself and my former teammates," Ferraro explained. "We see how a player we compete against every day in practice and compete with is doing well. It says, 'Hey, maybe I can be that guy as well. I can play at the next level.' "

That confidence already is shining through. Development camp is just a couple days old, but Ferraro already has made a big impression.

"One of the most high-energy guys you've ever seen, he does not have a bad day," Sharks director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr. enthusiastically said. "He's had a really good camp so far."

Sommer agreed: "Early in the scrimmage, I thought he kind of carried the play. Kind of a hard guy to play against."

On top of being fast and a playmaker, the prospect out of King City, Ontario, demonstrated in Wednesday's scrimmage that he isn't afraid to play a physical game -- a good quality for a player who will have the opportunity to start off training camp with veterans such as Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson.

Merkley making progress

Ryan Merkley didn't register any points in the two games he played with the Barracuda this past season. Nevertheless, San Jose is happy with what it saw last year when checking in with the 2018 first-round draft pick.

"We were probably at 40 of his games this year," Wilson said. "Whenever we went to his games, we would talk to him afterward."

Merkley was considered a risky pick-up for San Jose, being noted as an offensively minded defenseman who needed to focus more on the defensive side of his game, But after ending the season with 71 points and a plus-four in 63 games, the Oakville, Ontario, native appears to be making the right adjustments.

"I thought I had a good start," Merkley said of his season, which started with the Guelph Storm before a mid-season trade to the Peterborough Petes. "In Guelph, I had good numbers -- thought I played well. I had a tough adjustment going into Peterborough to start, but I think I picked it up near the end there."

[RELATED: Sharks issue qualifying offers to six players]

While his regular season brought on some uncertainty because of being traded, Merkley said he felt good being at his second development camp in San Jose.

"It's more comfortable, for sure," Merkley said. "When you're coming in your first year, you're nervous, you don't know what to expect, how hard it is. But it certainly feels good being here for a second year."

NHL Draft 2019: Here's how Sharks' recent picks have been doing so far

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AP

NHL Draft 2019: Here's how Sharks' recent picks have been doing so far

The San Jose Sharks have found a wealth of success with some of their draft picks over the last couple of years, whether it's a first-round selection like Tomas Hertl or Timo Meier, or a sixth-round choice like Kevin Labanc -- or even a seventh-rounder like captain Joe Pavelski.

San Jose doesn't have a first-round selection in this year's NHL draft up in Vancouver. So in preparation for the rest of the weekend and the upcoming development camp, here's how San Jose's prospects from the last two drafts are doing:

Ryan Merkley, defenseman -- first round, 21st overall pick, 2018
The Sharks turned some heads when they used their first-round pick in 2018 to select Merkley. While the Oakville, Ontario native was considered a dynamic two-way defenseman, he also had a couple of behavioral mishaps that made him a bit of a risky pick-up. But San Jose was confident in the homework it did on Merkley and took him with the 21st overall pick.

Merkley, 18, started the 2018-19 season with the Guelph Storm before being traded to the Peterborough Petes, registering 71 points (14 goals, 57 assists) and a plus-4 rating between the two teams. 

He was called up to make his AHL debut with the Barracuda this past April, playing in two regular-season contests for San Jose. He tallied no points and a minus-1 rating. 

Zachary Emond, goalie -- sixth round, 176th overall pick, 2018
It's no wonder the Sharks signed Emond to an entry-level contract this past spring. The 18-year-old netminder finished his 2018-19 campaign for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies with a 24-0-1 record, leading the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with a 1.73 goals-against average, .932 save percentage and seven shutouts.

With that shining résumé, Emond helped lead the Huskies to a QMJHL championship and Memorial Cup championship.

"Zach's overall development and growth improved immensely this season, recording seven shutouts and an unprecedented 24-0-1 record," Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said in a press release after the team signed Emond. "We're excited to watch him take over the helm in the crease next year and build on his impressive performance from the previous campaign."  

Mario Ferraro, defenseman -- second round, 49th overall pick, 2017
Ferraro was coming off his final season with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL when the Sharks drafted him in 2017. He since has put together two impressive campaigns playing at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, serving as an alternate captain during the 2018-19 season.

The 20-year-old blueliner registered 37 points (six goals, 31 assists) and 43 penalty minutes over two seasons playing at the NCAA level.

Alexander Chmelevski, center -- sixth round, 185th overall pick, 2017
Chmelevski is one player Sharks fans are no doubt excited to see participate in this summer's prospect scrimmage after the impressive season he just had at the junior level.

The Huntington Beach native is coming off a beastly campaign, tallying 75 points in 56 regular season games for the Ottawa 67s and 31 points in 18 playoff contests. He also tallied seven points for Team USA in this past year's World Juniors competition. 

Chmelevski had a brief stint with the Barracuda during their 2017-18 season, tallying four points (three goals, one assist) in six regular-season matchups and two points (one goal, one assist) through four AHL playoff games.

[RELATED: Sharks to play Golden Knights in first two games next season]

Ivan Chekhovich, left wing -- seventh round, 212th overall pick, 2017
When the Sharks signed Chekhovich to an entry-level contract in April 2018, Wilson was quick to point out how quickly the then-19-year-old adjusted to playing hockey at the pro level.

"He has proven in his short stint of professional hockey that he can keep up with the pace and physicality," Wilson said in a team press release. "His offensive instincts and creativity make him a dangerous player in the opposing team's end and we look forward to seeing him develop with our organization."

The Russian winger continues to build on his game season after season and is coming off a staggering 105-point campaign with Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the QMJHL. He added to that with four points (one goal, three assists) in five regular-season games and three points (one goal, three assists) in four playoff games with the Barracuda this past season.