Thursday, August 13, 2020

31 Teams in 31 Days - San Jose Sharks

1. Ryan Merkley - London Knights
When Merkley was dealt to London after a turbulent 2018/19 season split between Guelph and Peterborough, many expected that there were two possible outcomes. The first being that he would continue to let his emotions get the best of him and that the pairing with Dale Hunter would see him ride the bench for periods of a time and that many of the negative tendencies would become even more amplified. The second being that Hunter would bring out the best in Merkley and that his development would take a sharp 180. Thankfully, it was the latter. Honestly, Merkley's development this year could not have possibly gone better. In his time with London, Merkley played the best hockey that I've ever seen from him, and with way less theatrics. Not only was his offensive game more dialed in and focused, as his decision making noticeably improved, but his commitment level and engagement in the defensive end was significantly better. Additionally, we saw very, very few incidents where Merkley lost his cool, playing a more composed game and communicating better with teammates and the coaching staff. One year certainly doesn't flip the script completely. Merkley will still have work to do as he begins his pro journey next season. However, this year could not have gone better for the talented defender. Merkley is still such an asset in transition because of his elite four way mobility, his aggressiveness/confidence, and his underrated vision and anticipation. Among NHL drafted defenders in the OHL, Merkley generated the second most scoring chances and completed the second most zone entries this past year. He is most at home running the point of the powerplay where he consistently keeps his feet moving and is able to create those passing lanes with subtle fakes or cuts to evade checks. Defensively, he had more takeaways per game (according to InStat Hockey) than defensive rocks like Kevin Bahl, Nikita Okhotyuk, Tyler Tucker, and Ryan O'Rourke. Under Hunter, his defensive intensity really increased and we saw him use his mobility to gain that leverage over opposing forwards. I know that there could be an opening on San Jose's blueline next year, but I think that the Sharks would be smart not to rush him. Let him play a year in the AHL next season, where he can see significant powerplay time (would he get that over Burns/Karlsson at the NHL level?) and really focus on continued improvement defensively. I think Merkley should be able to replicate the kind of production a guy like Jake Bean has been able to sustain early on in the AHL.

2. Zach Gallant - Peterborough Petes
After an injury plagued 2018/19 year that saw Gallant go unsigned by Detroit (before being signed by the Sharks after development camp), it was great to see Gallant play a full year for the Petes. Ultimately, the Sharks made the correct choice to send Gallant back for his OA year, where he could continue to act as the captain in Peterborough and help the Petes try to capture their division. Acting as the team's second line center at times, and as a second line winger at others (after Akil Thomas was acquired), Gallant really played every role for Peterborough. He's a terrific penalty killer because of how strong he is away from the puck and how physical he is. Gallant definitely had to be classified as one of the better defensive forwards in the OHL. Gallant also occupies the net front when he doesn't have the puck and does the vast majority of his damage within a few feet of the goal. He cleans up a lot of rebounds and works hard to provide screens. He supports puck carriers well by keeping his feet moving, even if he's not the quickest or fleetest of foot. Ultimately, how much Gallant can improve his skating will be the key to whether he can carve out an NHL career. He has all the qualities that you'd look for in a 3rd or 4th line forward. But, he won't be able to be as successful in that role until he upgrades his quickness. It's possible and it may take a few years. I'd look for Gallant to split time between the AHL and ECHL next season.

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