The comparisons between Ryan Merkley and Drew Doughty are somewhat inevitable.
But it’s safe to say that as an offensive defenceman, Ryan Merkley is ahead of Drew Doughty at the same point in their junior careers.
That is not saying that Merkley is as good as Doughty was at this stage as an overall player or that he will attain anything close to what Doughty has accomplished in the game thus far. What we’re talking about is offensive skillset as a 16-year-old.
Doughty was and always will be the more complete player.
Doughty was a different player than Merkley at 16. He didn’t get as much ice time as a rookie, was bigger and stronger on and off the puck and was better in his own end of the ice, although it should be noted Doughty was a minus-11 on a good team that year (Merkley is minus-8 right now).
DD was also a more refined, calmer presence on the ice.
The NHL all star also had a natural instinct to avoid skating into trouble or trying to do too much at times, something Merkley is still learning. Doughty also had a better shot.
But Merkley’s ice vision and ability to find open teammates is spectacularly uncanny. Doughty was good at 16, Merkley is great.
Never was that more evident than on the Guelph Storm’s first goal Wednesday night against Sarnia, a truly spectacular play by Merkley to set up Albert Michnac.
A pair of Sarnia players closed in on Merkley as he carried the puck towards the Sarnia blue line. As the coaches on the bench yelled at him to dump the puck deep, Merkley swerved towards the boards to create some time and space, then slid a pass against the grain to the centre of the ice where Michnac was streaking over the blueline.
Michnac only had a step on his defender. The pass had to be in the perfect place at the perfect speed and it was.
I have no idea how Merkley even saw Michnac, never mind make the perfect pass.
It’s been said several times, you can’t teach the things that make Merkley’s offensive game so special, much like you can’t teach the things that made Doughty such a great prospect
Merkley has 26 points heading into Friday night’s road game in Sudbury and is the leading rookie scorer – forward or defence – in the OHL.
He also had a shot at Kevin Mitchell’s rookie storm defenceman record of 56 points, something Mitchelll did as a 17-year-old.
One thing Merkley does have in common with Doughty is that it’s going to be special watching him develop over the next couple of years.
He will never be Drew Doughty. But he’s going to be a pretty amazing Ryan Merkley.