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Merkley primed for big future with Sharks

San Jose defenseman prospect looks to improve in own zone during third OHL season

by Eric Gilmore / NHL.com Correspondent

SAN JOSE -- Ryan Merkley has a huge fan in San Jose Sharks development coach Mike Ricci, who spoke in superlatives about the 17-year-old defenseman prospect, the No. 21 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.

Ricci said he can't wait to see what Merkley, the youngest player at the Sharks development camp last week, looks like in another year.

"You can see how when he's playing junior he can score some points," Ricci said after the Sharks' Prospects Scrimmage at SAP Center on Friday. "The puck's on his tape, he's always looking for a play. 

"He's never really rushed, and there will be times where he'll have to hurry up a little bit. l thought he's been great, and his body's just going to get [stronger] with age. He's going to be scary to see.

"He's doing this now with a 17-year-old body. He's going to progress. He made some plays out there with his stick, defending plays. Being a defenseman and being that young, it's not easy."

At 5-foot-11 and 168 pounds, Merkley was the lightest defenseman in camp. He competed against players who not only outweighed him by as much as 65 pounds, but were as many as seven years older. Twelve players in camp had experience in the American Hockey League.

"It's obviously a big adjustment," Merkley said. "I'm obviously a smaller frame compared to these guys, especially you throw in the age, too. They have a lot more experience, a lot more confidence. This is my first camp. They've been through it a few times and obviously it's a different challenge for me here. I believe in myself."

Merkley will play his third season for Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League. The No. 1 pick in the 2016 OHL Draft, he has 122 points (25 goals, 97 assists) in 125 games over two seasons with Guelph, including 67 points (13 goals, 54 assists) in 63 games last season.

Video: Merkley on how his offensive strengths suit Sharks

Merkley's skills as a passer, puck handler and skater were evident during development camp, but so were some of his defensive deficiencies. 

Merkley's problems at the blue line at times led to some frustration and anger on the ice, which he said he will work on with a sports psychologist this season.

"In the heat of the moment, how I react. I need to get better [at that] for sure," he said.
Merkley is well aware the Sharks want him to improve his play in the defensive zone.

"I'm sure I can play against the best [in the offensive zone]," Merkley said. "Now I've got to show I can play in the defensive zone against anybody."

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