San Jose Sharks hope Ryan Merkley could be the next Erik Karlsson

San Jose Sharks (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)
San Jose Sharks (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images) /

The San Jose Sharks have been very impressed with Ryan Merkley so far

The San Jose Sharks may not have the deepest farm system in the NHL, but one prospect stands out among the rest — defenseman Ryan Merkley.

Merkley was originally drafted by the team in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft after he fell all the way to pick No. 21. The talent was never in question, but some teams had concerns about his character and work ethic.

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To this point, neither has proved to be much of an issue.

In fact, Merkley as done nothing but impress the Sharks’ management since he was drafted by the team. And now after finishing up what could be his final season in junior hockey, his time with the team could be drawing near.

Merkley totaled 76 points (15 goals, 61 assists) playing for the London Knights of the OHL last year. He helped lead the Knights to a stellar 45-15-2 record before the OHL’s season was shut down.

However, his assist total ranked fourth in the league and he did more than enough to provide Sharks fans with plenty of optimism.

And in a recent media conference call last week, Sharks’ scouting director Doug Wilson Jr. had some high praise for the Ontario native.

"“Ryan had a very good year. In his career, every single season he scored more goals, he had more assists, he had more points and his plus-minus got better all four years in the OHL. I’m very excited about Ryan.”"

Wilson went on to liken him to current Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson noting their similar offensive-minded skillsets.

"“The biggest thing with [Merkley] was he’s never going to hit guys like Brent Burns or Radim Simek, he’s going to play defense more like Erik Karlsson. If we can get him to use his stick to angle guys off in the neutral zone and then get the puck going north faster, that’s how he’s going to play defense. I think that’s what you saw this year with him.”"

Wilson brings up an excellent comparison and it’s likely a similar viewpoint to the one shared by his father and current Sharks general manager, Doug Wilson.

Merkley is never going to be the biggest defenseman on the ice, despite adding around 10 pounds of weight in the past year or so. He isn’t going to win defensively with his size and physical presence.

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Rather, Merkley’s offensive skills and natural passing ability give him the potential to be a star in the NHL for years to come. On defense, he’ll be more of a neutral-zone player than a true stay-at-home defender.

And that’s perfectly okay. It’s what’s allowed players like Karlsson to find so much success.

With Karlsson under contract for the foreseeable future, perhaps he could even serve as Merkley’s mentor upon his arrival in the NHL which could feasibly come as soon as sometime next season.

There are few better offensive-minded defensemen in the sport to learn under than Karlsson.

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The Sharks are understandably high on Merkely and if he could develop into anything like Karlsson, the franchise could have the next homegrown star waiting in the wings.