Just two months into his junior hockey career, Guelph Storm defenceman Ryan Merkley is still figuring some things out.
He got another lesson Sunday, playing (by his standards) a relatively conservative game but still picking up four assists in a 5-1 victory over the Sudbury Wolves at the Sleeman Centre.
Merkley, a possible first round draft pick in next June's National Hockey League draft, not only picked up the four helpers, but he was very sound in his own end of the ice too.
“It’s a big focus for me. Obviously in the defensive zone you can never stop learning and I’m trying to get better and better at it each and every day,” said Merkley, who leads the Storm in scoring with 24 points in 19 games.
“It goes hand-in-hand right? Better defence means less time in your zone and more on offence. Nobody likes to get scored on and I was a minus-41 last year, I don’t want to be looking at that again.”
Despite inherent skill, there has still been a learning curve.
“I think it gets easier and easier as you get more experience and you get more games under your belt,” said Merkley.
“The team’s growing up too. We’re all coming up together, we’re getting along well and we’re playing well right now.”
Storm coach George Burnett said Merkley is starting to figure some things out.
“He’s going to be a key offensive performer at every level that he plays at regardless, but I think that maybe he’s understanding a little more that other areas of his game are going to be important in his development the same as everybody else,” Burnett said.
“We understand there’s going to be mistakes, whether it’s him or anybody else, but he is making an effort to be better at both ends of the rink, moves the puck a little quicker and not be on the ice for extended periods of time.
“They’re all lessons that are being learned,” Burnett said
Sunday’s win lifts Guelph (10-7-0-2) into a tie for fifth place in the Western Conference standings with the Owen Sound Attack.
All six goals in Sunday's game came in the second period.
The Storm got even-strength tallies from Isaac Ratcliffe and Nate Schnarr, two power play goals from Cam Hillis and a shorthanded breakaway goal by Liam Hawel.
Ratcliffe would finish the game with three points, Hawel a pair.
Sudbury’s lone goal, by Macauley Carson, came on a two-man advantage and made the score 3-1 for a brief time.
After a pair of weekend wins over two of the league’s worst teams, the schedule gets considerably tougher for the Storm for the next couple of weeks.
They play in London Thursday, in Kitchener Friday and home to the top-ranked Sarnia Sting on Sunday.
The following weekend it’s Barrie at home on the Friday, in Owen Sound the next night then London at home on Sunday.