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What Do Meloche, Merkley Bring?



Credit: AP Photo/Tony Avelar

If you look closely enough, there are still plenty of reasons to watch the San Jose Sharks.

On one hand, the Sharks dropped their ninth straight, their longest losing streak since they dropped 10 in a row from Nov. 5 to Nov. 30, 2005. On the other hand, San Jose is still playing competitive hockey – they lost to playoff-likely Dallas Stars 2-1 on Saturday – despite dressing seven rookies.

If you’re trying to figure out who will be playing for the Sharks next year, there’s no better place than these season-ending games.

Two rookie defensemen, Ryan Merkley and Nicolas Meloche, caught my eye in particular for reasons both good and bad.

I’ve had some debate on Twitter about the merits of both defensemen recently. I’m not going to rehash it all here, but I think both are young defensemen with different but important skillsets.

They also aren’t without their flaws.

I like Meloche’s mobility for his 6-foot-3 frame – he uses it well too. Strictly defensively, he is an NHL-caliber defender. He’s smart and simple and strong.

Meloche (53) is on top of Jason Robertson (21) twice as the Stars attempt to break out, showing good feet and reach. And notice when Dallas does break out, how Meloche walls off the wily Joe Pavelski from getting a stick on the soft Roope Hintz (24) shot that’s intended for deflection.

This matches up with what head coach Bob Boughner said about Meloche after a January victory over Washington: “I really liked him down in the trenches. I thought he was big and heavy. I thought he was physical, he won a lot of battles.”

Meloche and his partner Mario Ferraro acquitted themselves well against the Pavelski line last night, they played more against the Stars’ top line than any other Sharks’ defensemen.

But if Meloche was as good offensively as he can be defensively, he’d be a regular NHL defenseman anywhere.

This is also a study of why you generally don’t want your defensemen to be playing their off side: The right-handed Meloche must go left because of the Robertson forecheck. He’s also forced to carry the puck up on his backhand to keep it away from Robertson snapping at his heels.

If you’re going glass and out though, or if you’re a glass-and-out defenseman like Meloche can be – it better go out.

He has some work to do as a puck-mover.

In much the same way, if Merkley was as good defensively as he can be offensively, he’d be a regular defenseman.

But I want to concentrate on the offensive end, where the 21-year-old blueliner has the tendency to do too much.

Merkley (6) appears to try a backhand pass against the grain to Tomas Hertl (48) but Radek Faksa (12) sniffs it out. That’s a tough play to make in your defensive zone.

That’s what Boughner means when he calls for Merkley to go for a single instead of a home run. There appears to be an open Shark at the far side of the blueline.

That lines up with what I’ve seen from Merkley all year: He’s not as far along offensively as his best plays would have you believe. That, along with his very inconsistent defense, helps to explain why he’s sat more games than some fans would like.

But boy, can the 2018 first-round pick make some plays.

Running the point on the power play, Merkley fiddles with Faksa up top, before exploding to his right to find a shooting lane. Net front presence Scott Reedy (54) just misses the deflection.

Merkley can make the difficult look easy.

Merkley and Meloche have been compared a lot recently because both are right-handers and Meloche has played ahead of Merkley a lot recently. I don’t want to get into that debate now – and it might be academic, with righty Erik Karlsson now hurt – but I think that Meloche is a young defenseman who’s earned the minutes that he’s received.

Boughner Breaks Down Raffl Goal

Love him or hate him, San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner is always willing to go into the X’s and O’s of a play. It’s a lot of insight, if you pay attention. Here’s how Bob saw on the Michael Raffl short-handed goal.

“I think it starts on the breakout. I thought that we were too slow coming up the ice, therefore when we get across the line – they did a good job of bottling up and stacking the line, and we got inside the line and we made the kickout and we made the play, and then we rimmed it, and when you rim the puck you got to make sure that you have guys on it. I think after the rim we could have recovered above a little bit. I think Sasha [Chmelevski] was caught 50-50 on that, and he decided to keep it alive instead of just living another day,” Boughner said. “They came out two-on-one and [Luke] Glendening made a great backhand sauce over Burnzie [Brent Burns] and I thought Burnzie might have dove a little too early there, and they executed. It’s just getting guys caught trying to get pucks back, and the key is that if you are going to rim it, it has to be rimmed a little bit earlier and we have to make sure that we are making the right decisions.”

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