I was talking with a scout for a National Hockey League team recently about Guelph Storm defenceman Ryan Merkley and where he thought he might be selected in this June’s NHL draft.
To paraphrase his opinion: ‘you wouldn’t take him with the last pick of the first round but you wouldn’t let him get past you if you had the first pick of the second round.’
To interpret: Merkley is a big risk/reward type of draft pick. Take him in the first round and you could be a general manager who blew a first round pick. Take him early in the second round and you could be the general manager that got a major first round talent who becomes an NHL regular in the second round.
Plus, no one remembers second round picks that didn’t pan out. For a scout or a general manager, blown first round picks can eventually cost you your job.
NHL Central Scouting’s latest rankings has Merkley ranked 21st among North American Skaters. Cam Hillis is 59th.
Add in European skaters, and maybe the odd goaltender, and that would likely put Merkley at the very end of the first round or very early in the second round. Hillis becomes a late third rounder or early fourth.
But there are always teams that fall in love with a player and take them higher than many thought was the right spot. Merkley’s abilities could certainly hook someone.
No one can question Merkley’s offensive talent and on-ice vision it’s world class. Perhaps the best to ever wear a Guelph Storm jersey. And his skating is also top notch.
The question is, was and may likely always be, can he develop his defensive game adequately enough to allow a team to take advantage of all that offence?
Both Merkley and Hillis were average in Thursday’s top prospects game at the Sleeman Centre, but don’t put too much stock in that.
The top prospects game is more of a showcase event, made for television and to promote the Canadian Hockey League in general.
It is not an essential measure of a draft prospects standing. It is not something an NHL scout would use as a key evaluation tool for a player.
While it’s always interesting to see a player competing against his age, fact is scouts have been watching these kids for two years. They’ve seen many of them on the international stage and through countless regular season games.
A Thursday night at the Sleeman Centre isn’t going to change their minds.
What can change their mind is the comparison of the same player from the beginning of a season to the end of a season, how their game, body and attitude has evolved. And what does catch their attention is how a player performs in the post-season.
In the end it is a much broader assessment used to pick a player. We will have to wait until June to see where that pick is.