After rumors swirled for weeks about where San Jose Sharks prospect Ryan Merkley would play hockey in 2019-20, we finally have an answer. The Peterborough Petes have traded Merkley to the London Knights in the OHL in exchange for a 2024 conditional second or third round pick, and a 2022 third round pick. This is the second time Merkley has been traded in junior hockey, while a reputation for being a tough player to coach has followed him everywhere.
Selected 21st overall in 2018, there are few defensive prospects in the world with as much playmaking skill as Merkley. His ability to create room for himself on the blueline and then find an open teammate through traffic is almost unmatched, and he can use his elusiveness to skate the puck out of trouble in his own end. That play in the defensive zone has been questioned because of a troubling work ethic, but there’s absolutely no doubt that Merkley has all the skill required to be an NHL defenseman.
That’s exactly what the Sharks saw in him and why they already signed Merkley to his entry-level contract last summer. Even with all of the frustration he may have caused coaching staffs over the years, he still has the talent to do almost anything he wants on the ice at the junior level. That’s why it is so surprising to see the incredibly small return that the Knights had to give up. NHL first-round picks don’t get traded for conditional mid-round picks, instead usually grabbing a huge package that would include several top selections.
Still, for Merkley the Knights may be the best place for him right now. The London organization is one of the most stable in the OHL and an NHL breeding ground that has dealt with their fair share of projects over the years. Hopefully the 19-year old will be able to right the ship and fulfill his promise as an elite offensive defenseman. After a solid showing in San Jose training camp, his contract will slide forward again as he plays his final year of junior.