Merkley began the previous season slated to be picked within the top 10 selections of the opening round. However, due to several off-ice issues including his attitude, his stock dropped significantly to where he was projected to be selected 45th overall among North American skaters by the NHL Central Scouting.
Now despite all the talk of Merkley’s off-ice problems, he still put up significant numbers for the Guelph Storm in his first two seasons.
In his first season, Merkley led the Ontario Hockey League for points among rookies with 12 goals and 43 assists for a total of 55 points.
“I’ve got to keep working. Keep getting better, keep getting more experience. Get a few more exhibition games in and grow,” said Merkley.
As a member of Canada Red in the Under-17 tournament in 2017, Merkley scored twice in five games, and at the under-18 tournament this past season, he added three assists for his Canadian Squad at the world championships in Russia.
According to many hockey analysts, Merkley even made a lot of “do not draft” lists among scouts representing NHL clubs prior to Friday night’s draft.
However, San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson said, “He’s one of the youngest kids in the draft. He’s got high-end talent; we think he’s a difference-maker. We spent quite a bit of time with him and we believe in him.”
Merkley joins a great rank of Guelph Storm alumni to have their names called on draft day, becoming the first selected in the opening round since Robby Fabiri was selected 21st overall by the St. Louis Blues in 2014.
Other key alum for the Storm that were selected in the first round include Kerby Reichel (19th, Columbus Blue Jackets, 2013), Peter Holland (15th, Anaheim Ducks, 2009), Drew Doughty (2nd, LA Kings, 2008), Dustin Brown (13th, LA Kings, 2003), Manny Malhotra (7th, New York Rangers, 1998), Jeff O’Neill (5th, Hartford Whalers, 1994) and Todd Bertuzzi (23rd, New York Islanders, 1993).
The Oakville, Ont. native says he knows what was at stake prior to hearing his name called on draft night, knowing full well he has a lot of work ahead of him.
Merkley’s selection to also caught the attention of his future teammates.
Goaltender Anthony Poppovich has also had his name thrown around for later rounds, along with defenceman Owen Lalonde.