Flyers

2018 NHL draft profile: Ryan Merkley, a polarizing high risk/reward prospect

2018 NHL draft profile: Ryan Merkley, a polarizing high risk/reward prospect

Over the weeks leading up to the 2018 NHL draft, we're providing prospect profiles and how they would fit with the Flyers, who have two first-round picks — Nos. 14 and 19.

The NHL draft takes place June 22-23 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. The Flyers have nine picks with two in the first, fifth and seventh rounds and one in the second, fourth and sixth. They do not own a third-rounder as it went to the Detroit Red Wings for Petr Mrazek. The 14th pick conveyed from the Brayden Schenn trade. The final details were Schenn to the St. Louis Blues for Jori Lehtera, a 2017 first-round pick (Morgan Frost) and the 14th pick.

Our prospect profiles will touch mostly on prospects projected to go in the 10-20 range but some may require the Flyers having to trade up to select. We’ll identify those prospects.

Ryan Merkley

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 170
Shoots: Right
Team: Guelph (OHL)

Scouting report
It’s hard to overlook Merkley’s offensive instincts and ability as a right-handed defenseman. He has elite speed and acceleration and moves the puck quickly and smoothly. The blueliner has great vision and can make breakout passes look simple. Add in his ability to quarterback a power play and a prospect like Merkley would normally be considered a safe high first-rounder.

Merkley just finished up his second season with Guelph, which selected him with the No. 1 pick in the 2016 OHL draft as a no-brainer. In his first OHL season, Merkley scored 12 goals and 55 points in 62 games. This season, the righty netted 13 markers and 67 points in 63 games. The offensive numbers are gaudy as they were in Triple-A midget hockey when he was “heads and shoulders above everybody else.” Merkley is an elite offensive defenseman prospect with major concerns in his own end and has been labeled as a player who cheats a bit to produce offense. Plus/minus is a flawed stat but in two seasons in the OHL, Merkley is a minus-70. That’s telling.

A major concern with Merkley is his character and maturity. He had a public argument with his former coach in Guelph last season, according to Sudbury Star. He was reportedly cut from Team Canada’s U-18 team because of a conflict. It could be chalked up as a teenager being a teenager, but some teams could be scared away from spending a high pick on him. 

Fit with Flyers
The Flyers certainly could use another impact defenseman to insert into their farm system and offensively, Merkley would qualify as such. Add in that he’s a right-handed shot and some may view Merkley as a prospect worth the risk. But there would be considerable risk in selecting Merkley.

One, his defense is an area of concern and there has been chatter he’s been unwilling to work in that area. Two, the maturity aspect. Merkley’s drafting team will require patience, which Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has. Some feel Merkley should be in the top 15 and others see him slipping to the late first round. He doesn’t seem to be a fit with Hextall’s past.

With two first-round picks, it’s possible the Flyers could aim to draft both a forward and a defenseman. It would be a minor surprise, if they keep both, that they don’t take at least one defenseman at either 14 or 19. Fourteen seems a little high with the defensive concerns, but at 19, if he is available, it is worth taking a look at him. His offensive game is as good as it gets.

More on the 2018 NHL draft

• Profile: Dominik Bokk

• Profile: Noah Dobson

• Profile: Rasmus Kupari

• Profile: Martin Kaut

• Profile: Grigori Denisenko

• Profile: Jesperi Kotkaniemi

• Profile: Serron Noel

• Profile: Joel Farabee

• Profile: Barrett Hayton

• Profile: Isac Lundestrom

• Profile: Joseph Veleno

• Profile: Vitali Kravtsov

The Jakub Voracek balance doesn't have to be so complicated

The Jakub Voracek balance doesn't have to be so complicated

VOORHEES, N.J. — Jakub Voracek has the NHL’s seventh-most assists since the 2013-14 season.

His job description as a playmaker comes with a double-edged sword. Throughout his career, he has been tasked with creating offense. To do so, it requires pushing the envelope — taking risks, making bang-bang decisions and playing instinctually.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

When a facilitator like Voracek tries to make plays at a prolific clip, he’s bound to make mistakes. It’s no coincidence the year Voracek set career highs in assists (65) and points (85), he also had his most giveaways (65). That was 2017-18, the Flyers’ best season (42 wins, 98 points) since 2011-12, when the franchise last won a playoff series.

Voracek is in a new system with a new head coach. He and Alain Vigneault are still getting to know each other — from the player’s tendencies to the coach’s style. 

In the third game of the relationship, Voracek was demoted from the first line to the fourth unit during the third period and played his fewest minutes (14:30) since 2015-16. In the fifth game, Voracek climbed from the third line to the second unit alongside Kevin Hayes and Oskar Lindblom after scoring a goal during the first period. He ended up with two goals and an assist during the 6-3 loss to the Oilers, although his final two points came late in the third when the game was out of reach.

“That’s why I made that quick change after the first period where I put him with Haysey and Oskar,” Vigneault said Friday following practice. “I thought his first period was good. He had good vibes, good energy. He was protecting the puck well. For the most part, that for him was a step in the right direction.”

Ultimately, Voracek needs to be himself. The Flyers are better when he’s himself. Over the past five seasons, the Flyers went 59-18-10 when Voracek had a multi-point game. When he’s himself, he’s not overthinking, he’s playing freely — and, yes, he’s playing harder and smarter. Voracek understands there must be a balance between aggressiveness and conservativeness with his playmaking.

And he knows fans might struggle to grasp the intricacies of that balance.

Prior to his three-point effort against Edmonton, Voracek had gone scoreless through the first four games of the season for the first time in his career.

If I play good defense, nobody is going to see that because I don’t produce offensively. If I produce offensively and I still make a couple of mistakes, they’re going to say I’m sh---y defensively. It’s a no-win situation. 

But I think defensively, I was pretty good when you look at those games. But it’s not good enough for me and for the team. I expect more out of myself offensively. And that’s what it takes sometimes, you have to … not take chances, but you have to create more. Obviously with creating more, being on the puck more, there’s a bigger chance you’re going to f--- it up sometimes.

With me right now, I’m 30 years old, I think we’re focusing on helping the team to win the game. If it’s scoring goals, getting an assist, making a good defensive play, focusing on playing good defense — it doesn’t matter as long as we find a way to win.

Confidence often drives Voracek. An important play or big goal can lead to points in bunches from the winger. He has mentioned that word a lot in his time here. Vigneault, Voracek and the Flyers will have to find ways to boost confidence together.

“A lot of it has to do with confidence,” Voracek said. “If you go in, if you don’t produce and if you are careful, it’s hard to gain something. I could still end up with four of five points in the first four games, the chances were there — passing, couple of chances, but it didn’t. If it did, it would be a different story. If you get the goal, if you get an assist, that builds up your confidence little bit.

"Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t good [in those games], either. Especially during the seasons in the past, you can’t have four or five games and end up with one point [and say] your game could be at the top level.

"The funny thing is, when you play well, it’s easy to find the balance because you have confidence.”

As Voracek makes plays, he will also make mistakes.

Is it frustrating when the fans or media only see the mistakes?

“Obviously from upstairs, you see the different perspective of the ice,” Voracek said. “There are different lanes when you have the puck, you see different things. I got here the way I played before and the way I was, I think, doing the right things. But sometimes it’s hard to satisfy everybody, you know what I mean? Especially today, it’s really hard to satisfy everyone. It’s almost impossible in today’s society.”

That’s why Voracek just needs to be himself. There is no perfect balance.

Overthinking in search of it won’t help Voracek or the Flyers.

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Flyers loan Connor Bunnaman to Phantoms; is Nolan Patrick nearing a return?

Flyers loan Connor Bunnaman to Phantoms; is Nolan Patrick nearing a return?

Updated: 2:52 p.m.

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers on Friday loaned forward Connor Bunnaman to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

The move could mean center Nolan Patrick, who has been week to week with a migraine disorder, is nearing a return.

When Patrick does come back, there will be an odd man out of the lineup. Bunnaman, a 21-year-old rookie, was the likely candidate. Instead of having him sit and watch, the team signed veteran Chris Stewart, who can be the 13th forward, as Bunnaman continues his development with the Phantoms.

"We want the kid to play," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said after practice Friday. "I really think we’ve got a good, young player there. 

"He’s a 21-year-old player that got 19 goals last year in the American League, that’s pretty good. He needs to play, he needs to get some minutes, and then when he comes back here at some point, he’ll be a better player for us."

Stewart will play Saturday against the Stars at the Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m./NBCSP).

With Patrick not quite back yet, the Flyers could call up a forward from Lehigh Valley for some added offense. The candidates are Joel Farabee, German Rubtsov, Mikhail Vorobyev, Nicolas Aube-Kubel or possibly a veteran like Andy Andreoff. The Flyers currently have only 12 forwards and the roster is at 21 players. It can be at a maximum 23.

Patrick did more solo work Friday and took part in practice wearing a non-contact jersey.

"I see Nolan around, I really would tell you that when there’s feedback as far as where he is, I get it from our medical staff," Vigneault said. "I have been told that he’s been making some progress. Today I think was his longest practice, it was almost 30 minutes with us. So I think he’s on the right track."

The 21-year-old missed all of training camp and the preseason.

"We consulted a lot of different people and I think we feel we're in a good place medically," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said Sept. 26. "We'll hope for the best."

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