Storm’s Merkley selected by San Jose Sharks

DALLAS – Defenceman Ryan Merkley of the Guelph Storm was snapped up by the San Jose Sharks with the 21st overall pick of the opening round of the NHL draft Friday night.

“It’s surreal,” Merkley said during a news conference. “I don’t know how to describe it. It was an unreal feeling, I was happy. I was sitting up there nervous and anxious. We were getting down to the end of it there and it’s a big relief.”

The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder was the seventh blueliner taken in the draft and the lone Storm player taken in the first round.

“We spent quite a bit of time on him,” Sharks’ general manager Doug Wilson is quoted on the Sharks’ website. “He’s a competitor and has the ability to be a difference maker. When the game is on the line, he wants the puck.”

Merkley has 25 goals, 97 assists and 113 penalty minutes in 125 games in two seasons with the Storm since they selected him first overall in the 2016 OHL draft. He was the league’s rookie of the year in the 2016-17 season and he’s expecting to be back with the Storm for the 2018-19 season.

“I’d say (I need) another year of junior to show everybody that I can grow up and get better defensively,” he said. “I think I’ll be ready (before) my fourth year of junior.”

Merkley, one of a record 14 defencemen taken in the opening round, was thought to be a top pick, but some misconducts he took during the 2017-18 season hurt and dropped his overall rating.

“I know what I’ve done wrong, I know my bad habits and I know the areas that I’ve got to work on for sure if I want to get to the next level,” he said. “I’ve got to fully invest on getting better and showing everybody what I can do completing my all-around game.”

Merkley feels he has to deal with competitive nature and is working with a psychologist.

“I’m a competitive guy and I like to win,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of losing and that’s the main reason why. I’ve just got to deal with it better.”

That he was taken 21st is something he plans to use to motivate himself into improving his habits.

“That fires me up,” Merkley said. “Anytime anyone talks about me, it’s that I’m a top-10 talent, but… I guess that’s going to fire me up and it makes you want to get better. I had 20 teams pass up on me so I want to prove them wrong.”

Centre Barrett Jackson of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, son of former Guelph Platers defenceman Brian Hayton, was picked fifth overall by the Arizona Coyotes.

Of the 31 players selected in the first round, the lone round drafted Friday night, seven played in the OHL last season. There were four QMJHL players picked and two from the WHL.

The other six rounds of the NHL draft are to be conducted Saturday.

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