Ryan Merkley’s long stay at the San Jose Sharks training camp was impressive. And likely calculated.
Merkley returned to Guelph Thursday, creating a sigh of relief among Storm fans who thought the dynamic defenceman might actually make the Sharks, at least to start the season.
With all due respect to Merkley’s ability, accomplishment and performance at the San Jose camp, I think the plan all along was to return him to the Storm.
Ryan Merkley will hopefully go on to play 15 years in the NHL, but a player who just turned 18, weighs 170 pounds soaking wet and is a combined minus-70 the past two seasons isn’t ready yet.
No, I believe San Jose management has a master plan in place for the young man: The Merkley Plan.
That included bringing him out to San Jose early to get a feel for the environment and perhaps skate with some of the players prior to the opening of camp, playing him 20 minutes in exhibition games to show him what the future holds at or near that level and then keeping him until the last round of cuts.
He comes back to Guelph knowing he’s so close he can taste it.
The Merkley Plan includes building his confidence, showing him via game experience what areas of his game he needs to improve on, and most importantly driving home the message that he is part of that team’s future and needs to focus on taking those steps necessary to get there.
Eye on the prize.
That means playing better in his own end, being a more positive teammate and controlling the emotional outbursts that got him a reputation that is much easier to acquire than shed.
Not that keeping 18 year olds is unheard of, even if it is to largely sit them in the box, as longtime Storm fans are well aware of (see: Brown, Dustin).
Yes, there are the Connor McDavid’s of the world who, at 18, are clearly ready to step in and contribute at the NHL level.
But they are few and far between.
Merkley is not a bad egg, a problem child or a jerk. Quite the opposite actually.
But he is a young man who, by and large, has shown that he has difficulty dealing with on-ice adversity and controlling his emotions when things go south.
Maturity, focus, personal efforts he is undertaking to address the issue and a guiding hand from the Sharks should lead to a much different player than Storm fans have seen before.
Which is a win/win situation for everyone.