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Preview/Lines #71: Let’s Have an Honest Talk About Ryan Merkley



Credit: AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

VANCOUVER — I get the fascination with Ryan Merkley, really.

He’s a first-round pick who’s able to do frankly elite things offensively at the NHL level.

This is world-class: The poise of Merkley (6) down low pulls three Oilers toward him, leaving Timo Meier (28) wide open in the high slot.

We’ve seen plays like these from him on many occasions this year:

Ryan Merkley & the Delicate Balance

But the good doesn’t outweigh the bad yet, at least not consistently.

The good does outweigh the bad for fellow offense-first blueliners Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson. There’s a reason why the Norris Trophy winners, even in the decline phase of their careers, get the latitude they do when they make mistakes. The good still outweighs the bad with them.

Merkley’s not there yet and he wasn’t there during his last appearance on Apr. 5 versus Edmonton.

There’s a frankly wrong narrative out there that he got benched because of this mistake.

He got benched after this mistake – he didn’t play a 2-on-1 that was not of his doing particularly well – but he did not get benched because of it. These are two very different things.

Since I like to show my work, here’s why Merkley got benched.

There are three mistakes here: The dead giveaway to Warren Foegele (37), going down too early on a perceived 2-on-1, and not being aware that his partner Marc-Edouard Vlasic (44) had Derek Ryan (10) covered (it’s also incumbent on Vlasic to communicate to Merkley that he had backdoor covered). Essentially, Merkley thought there was a 2-on-1 coming back at him when there wasn’t.

An underrated aspect in the development of a prospect into a bona fide NHL player is how he reacts to a mistake in the best league in the world. What ultimately leads to a goal allowed is often not the initial mistake, but the reaction to that mistake.

San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner offered another example the next day: “[Merkley] shook the guy down there and all the fans went oohhh and everybody was happy.

“But then, he gets to the red line, turns it over, we spend a minute and 30 seconds in our end, he ends up giving a backhand pass behind the net and they get a chance.”

This is what we’ve seen from the 21-year-old defenseman all year, extreme highs, extreme lows.

“That’s our challenge with Ryan. We talk to him all the time. You can tell he’s got high-end talent,” Boughner said of Merkley. “[We’re] just trying to manage his game. We don’t want to take that skill out of his game. Absolutely not.

“But sometimes, you got to make a single instead of a home run, that’s all.”

These days, a coach has only so many carrots and sticks with which to teach a young player. Playing time is one of them, be it a benching or a healthy scratch.

Boughner laid out the reality for Merkley: “I don’t think he’s untouchable [in the line-up].”

Nor should he be, even on this below-average Sharks squad.

San Jose Sharks (29-32-9)

Rudolfs Balcers — Tomas Hertl — Alexander Barabanov
Timo Meier — Logan Couture — Sasha Chmelevski
Matt Nieto — Nick Bonino — Noah Gregor
Jonathan Dahlen — Scott Reedy

Jaycob Megna — Brent Burns
Mario Ferraro — Erik Karlsson
Marc-Edouard Vlasic — Ryan Merkley
Radim Simek

Kaapo Kahkonen
James Reimer

Vancouver Canucks (34-28-10)

Per Kevin Woodley from

Elias Pettersson — J.T. Miller — Conor Garland
Vasily Podkolzin — Bo Horvat — Alex Chiasson
Jason Dickinson — Juho Lammikko — William Lockwood
Nic Petan — Brad Richardson — Brad Hunt

Oliver Ekman-Larsson — Tyler Myers
Quinn Hughes — Luke Schenn
Travis Dermott — Kyle Burroughs

Thatcher Demko
Jaroslav Halak

Where to Watch

Puck drop between the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks is at 7 PM PT at Rogers Arena. Watch it live on ESPN+ and NBC Sports California. Listen to it on the Sharks Audio Network.


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