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Preview/Lines #48: What Does Boughner Want from Merkley?

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Credit: San Jose Barracuda

What’s in a name? Ryan Merkley and whether or not he belongs with the San Jose Sharks or down with the San Jose Barracuda has been the subject of discussion as of late, with his name thrown around between the two leagues, trying to find where he best slots in.

With the Sharks’ renewed efforts to find a wild card playoff spot, offense is key, and something they’ve been lacking. 

It looks like incorporating Ryan Merkley back into the line-up might be an answer to unlocking some offensive power.

“We’re going to let him play on that second unit power play. We haven’t scored a lot lately and he’s an offensive player, he helps us move pucks on our exits and out of our end, helps us with possessions. It’s another opportunity for him,” said head coach Bob Boughner. 

Merkley is, besides Erik Karlsson, the only San Jose Sharks defenseman to average more than five Zone Exits Per 60 at 5-on-5:

Where Have Sharks D-Men Excelled? What Must They Improve? | SJHN+

But there’s no guarantee that Merkley will be their smoking gun, and with his struggles with consistency and playing a solid defensive game…well, there’s been a reason why he hasn’t been a regular for the Sharks since his initial call-up. 

On his defensive side, the Sharks are looking for more. 

“There are games when he came in right away and played very well, especially in that Western Canada trip. I thought he held his own, but it’s jumping the check, and closing space down low as quick as possible, and he’s not the biggest guy, so he’s not looking to overpower people in the corners,” Boughner said. “But I want him to get there, take time and space away and have them stop there.” 

Underscoring that point about giving up too much space, per SPORTLOGiQ, Merkley was last among San Jose Sharks defensemen at the All-Star break in Defensive Zone Denial Rate at 5-on-5. His 41.4 percent was a far cry from blueliner leader Karlsson’s 51.2. Keep in mind too that the bottom-pairing rearguard’s rate was accumulated against softer match-ups than Karlsson’s.

Merkley is not unaware of the improvements the coaching staff expect from him. 

“I’ve been working a lot on box zones, a lot of one on ones in the corner, three-on-threes down low, putting guys up on the boards, working on the D-zone, and playing hard,” said Merkley. 

Merkley’s calling card would seemingly be on that second powerplay unit, and there are expectations with his performance on the special teams unit as well.

“He’s good at distributing it [the puck], and making plays against the motion on the penalty kill. But if he has a chance to get a shot through, he’s got to crack it,” Boughner said, “He can’t just be distributing the puck, he’s also got to be able to get that puck down to the net.” 

Merkley being on the smaller side means that watching the game of other smaller players and taking notes is huge, and with Vancouver rolling in, Merkley has his eyes set on someone on the ice. 

“With Quinn Hughes coming in, I get to watch him play. He’s a guy similar to my stature and size so I’m going to watch him play and see how he does it.” 

NHL Betting

Want to bet on tonight’s San Jose Sharks-Vancouver Canucks match-up? Check out Fanduel’s NHL betting odds.

San Jose Sharks (22-21-4)

The San Jose Sharks are looking for a bounce-back after a disappointing, 3-0 shutout loss to the Edmonton Oilers upon their return from break. 

Vancouver Canucks (22-21-6)

The Canucks have been revitalized since Bruce Boudreau took the helm, and the Canucks are determined to hold onto their two-point lead over the Sharks in the standings. 

AM Skate: Canucks in Shark Territory, Rathbone Update, Canada Wins!, Pitt Trades

This is how the Canucks last lined up, but add Quinn Hughes to the mix tonight:

Where to Watch

Puck drop between the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks is at 7:30 PM PT at the SAP Center. Watch it live on ESPN+, Sportsnet Pacific, and NBC Sports California. Listen to it on the Sharks Audio Network.

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