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Sommer on Merkley: “Still got a ways to go before he makes an impact at the NHL.”

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Credit: San Jose Barracuda

Ryan Merkley has had a quiet start to his professional career, but is making some noise now with two assists in three games.

“He’s still got a ways to go before he makes an impact at the NHL level,” head coach Roy Sommer said Saturday morning. “He’s ‘work in progress.’”

This season, Merkley did not impress enough in training camp to make the San Jose Sharks’ roster or taxi squad. Now a month into the AHL season, San Jose’s top prospect should be feeling more comfortable. Merkley earned his second career assist in the Barracuda’s 3-1 win over the Ontario Reign Sunday night.

Halfway through the first period, Merkley picked up a loose puck along the boards and quickly slung a pass to fellow young defender Brinson Pasichnuk. Kurtis Gabriel tipped in Pasichnuk’s one-timer for a goal to net Merkley his second assist in three games.

Merkley recorded his first professional point against the Texas Stars on Feb. 13 the primary assist on a Joachim Blichfeld goal. 

“The biggest thing with him is he’s just got a lot of offensive capabilities,” Sommer said. “He sees the ice real well on the offensive blue line. He’ll find guys off the side of the net, where most guys aren’t able to make a play.”

This is nothing new about Merkley. The 20-year-old has always been showered with praise for his creativity, quick hands, and smooth skating while being criticized for defensive play or attitude issues. Last year, Merkley made his final OHL season his best by scoring 76 points in 60 games for the London Knights.

Now in his first full season with the San Jose Sharks organization, Merkley has earned more responsibility. He plays alongside team captain Jaycob Megna, but frequently has the puck on his stick, whether it’s while running the breakout or second power play unit. Nick DeSimone quarterbacks the top PP unit.

“He’s still got to work on building his motor up a little bit,” Sommer said. “But other than that, he’s been pretty good.”

Blichfeld stays hot

The Barracuda continued to wash away their rocky first period performance yesterday by controlling the game from start to finish today. San Jose recorded a season-high 47 shots on goal and held Ontario to just 20, helping out goaltender Josef Korenar, who made his season debut this weekend by playing the entirety of back-to-back games. Korenar had not seen any game time while on the San Jose Sharks’ taxi squad.

The Reign tied the game early in the second period, but it was short-lived. On the power play, Blichfeld patiently picked his spot with a wrist shot to re-take the lead. Blichfeld’s first power play goal of the season extended his scoring streak to five games. 

Blichfeld added an empty-netter late in the third period to seal the 3-1 win. The 22-year-old Dane leads the Barracuda with six goals and three assists in just six games. 

Next week, San Jose will play three games on the road in Bakersfield and San Diego before hosting the Condors inside SAP Center on Mar. 9.

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