Can Ryan Merkley make good this year?
The 2018 first-round pick had a rough go of it during his first full pro campaign, registering just 11 points in 31 AHL contests. That’s a far cry from his point-per-game OHL pace.
But it’s not just about offensive production. The San Jose Sharks were also less than thrilled with Merkley’s conditioning coming into last year’s training camp. Not upset, mind you — they just hoped for more.
“Like a lot of these guys coming off of quarantine, he came into camp around 12% body fat, which is normal, but we want it to be elite,” San Jose Sharks director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr. admitted. “By the end of the season, after he got through his hand injury where he missed two-and-a-half weeks, on our most recent testing, he was down at 9% body fat, which is great for those types of players. And his physio is way better.”
“He’s got to come back and get ready to take a job,” Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer acknowledged in a mixed review of Merkley’s campaign.
Merkley echoed these criticisms during Day 3 of San Jose Sharks development camp, when asked about his camp goals: “Just to show that I’m in better shape. Stronger defensively in the corners. That’s why I’ve been working, lifting heavier weights. Putting on weight. Show I’m in better shape, come in ready to go.”
So is Merkley ready to go this time around?
“I’ve gained, I think, it was 11 pounds of muscle this summer from our testing at GVN [Performance]. So it’s been a good summer so far — putting on 10 pounds helps,” Merkley reported. “Some room [for improvement] on the body fat, for sure. But I think I’m getting there.”
There’s one month until training camp opens.
Of course, we’ve heard the same thing from Merkley before. Last January, he said, “I came in at maybe 170 pounds [at 2019 training camp]. Getting around 182, 183 has been big for me, just for battling in the corners, puck possession, winning my battles.”
So what happened?
Merkley confessed to getting off track in season: “I got out of shape there when we stayed in the hotel for a long time. We weren’t eating the best. A lot of Uber Eats. We didn’t have a kitchen at the hotel, it made it difficult to eat as clean.”
Merkley is talking about the consecutive months that the Barracuda were on the road to start the year.
Third dev camp’s the charm? Merkley also attended 2018 and 2019 Sharks development camps; there was no camp in 2020 because of COVID-19.
“It’s been better so far [this development camp]. My sprints and my 5-10-5 [agility test] have been really good this year,” he offered. “I feel quick. Probably one of the best I’ve ever felt. I think I’ve been up to 186, 188, around there.”
Time for Big Time?
Magnus Chrona also has something to prove.
After being named an NCHC Goalie of the Year finalist and to the NCHC All-Rookie Team in his rookie NCAA campaign, the University of Denver netminder slumped to a 7-11-0 record and a .907 Save % last year.
“It was very hard to play. We never knew when we were going to play,” Chrona said of the pandemic-impacted season. “But I hope to bounce back from that and have a good junior year.”
The 2018 fifth-round pick — acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning for Fredrik Claesson last Trade Deadline — is open to pro hockey after this hopefully successful NCAA campaign.
So what’s he got to work on to be “Big Time” at the next level?
“Probably my speed,” Chrona pointed out. “I feel like that’s going to be a key component for me, taking that next step. I’ve been working on it a lot this past year.”
I asked Magnus Chrona this burning question: "Do you know how cool your name is? Is everybody in dev camp jealous of it?"
Chrona: "It's a little unique. Some will mock it. Some may think it's cool."
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) August 18, 2021
Merkley’s Secret Talent
Last year, Merkley lived with Kurtis Gabriel, Zach Gallant, and Brandon Coe.
That was an interesting spectrum — from an NHL’er in Gabriel to the 18-year-old Coe, Peterborough Petes teammates Gallant and Merkley in between.
“It was fun group, for sure,” Merkley laughed. “Gally and Coesy, we might live together again.”
Gabriel, of course, signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer.
“We wish Gabriel all the best in Toronto. He’s a good guy, awesome to have around the house,” Merkley said. “It was a good group having four guys together in a townhouse. All three of us were first-year guys who had a good veteran like Gaber. He was a good pro.”
No word yet who’ll replace Gabriel’s veteran presence in this Cuda household. But whoever comes in should expect…a hearty breakfast?
“I normally cook breakfast for the boys in the morning,” Merkley shared. “That was my role.”
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