OHL Sunday Seven: Moving On From the Ryan Merkley Drama

Welcome back to the OHL Sunday Seven. During the 2019-20 season on most Sundays, we will talk about seven stories around the Erie Otters and the rest of the OHL. This week, we shine the spotlight on Ryan Merkley and tell you why it’s time to finally move on from all the past drama that has plagued him.

1. Ryan Merkley – The London Side

Well it finally happened. Defenseman Ryan Merkley finally got the news he was waiting for. On Thursday night, TSN’s Darren Dreger tweeted out that the London Knights had acquired the offensively-gifted defenseman from Peterborough.

As this news broke, the immediate question on the minds of everyone was what would the return be. It was clear Merkley was not playing for the Petes. The price wasn’t expected to be high. As it turns out, it was even lower than I expected.

All the Knights had to do was give up two draft picks, a third rounder and a conditional second or third rounder. According to the London Free Press, a no-move clause was involved that ultimately dictated where Merkley would end up. The deal got done.

Both Merkley and the Knights couldn’t be happier with the deal. For Merkley, he grew up in London and watched the Knights play as a kid. For the Knights, they land a premier offensive defenseman who has made strides in his defensive game. He made an instant impact upon entering the lineup.

Merkley recorded five assists in his first two games combined against Erie and Hamilton. Coupled with the return of defenseman Alec Regula, the Knights got a huge boost and are now primed to take another run at an OHL Championship and Memorial Cup. It was no wonder Merkley was all smiles when interviewed by Mike Stubbs upon his arrival in London.

2. Ryan Merkley – The Peterborough Side

Of course there are two sides to every story. From the Petes’ perspective, there was no winning this trade, not after everything they gave up originally to land him. It was simply time to cut bait, move on, and recoup a tiny portion of what they gave up.

Merkley’s past is well documented. He was a premier player who consistently had issues with coaches and teammates. His efforts were questioned. And he reportedly had a huge attitude problem in the midst of all of this. It was a case of immaturity that got the best of him. That’s why he’s been traded twice now.

Peterborough had no choice but to move forward with this trade. They didn’t want the distraction of it to hover over them longer than it needed to. They have a good team and a good thing going themselves. The story in Peterborough right now should be Nick Robertson, SDA, Mason McTavish, Hunter Jones and the talented team the Petes have. Thanks to this trade, we can finally focus on the good thing going on there.

Yep, we’ve finally reached the point that everyone on all sides can move on and not look back. For Merkley, he had a great NHL camp and is ready to dominate in London. Perhaps his time at Sharks’ camp really opened his eyes to the work that he needs to do in order to eventually be ready for the NHL. For his sake, we hope that his past doesn’t start to creep up again. The Knights won’t tolerate it if things start to go south. I don’t expect them to but we’ll see. Regardless, let’s all move on and focus on the hockey now that the trade is over with.

Ryan Merkley San Jose Sharks
Ryan Merkley can now focus on his season with the London Knights and the rest of us can move on. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

3. Erie’s Brutal Injury Situation

Give the Erie Otters credit. They have three wins in five outings despite their huge laundry list of early injuries. I feel like a doctor at the moment covering this team. Check out who’s been out.

  • Noah Sedore (lower body)
  • Matthew MacDougall (lower body)
  • Marcus Gillard (lower body, likely out for season)
  • Danial Singer (upper body)
  • Hayden Fowler (upper body, played in Windsor, then missed the next two.)
  • Brendan Kischnick (lower body, left game Saturday vs. Windsor, couldn’t put any weight on leg, no update as of yet.)

I mean yikes. The Otters had to play three games in three nights while all this was going on. And yet they found a way to win Saturday night to give themselves a winning record after five games. And in a much needed sign of good news, the Otters don’t have another road game for 19 games. This should allow most of the injured to come back soon.

Why have the Otters been able to win despite this injured list? One, Aidan Campbell is 2-0 to start his OHL career after turning in a brilliant performance against Windsor. His teammate Daniel Murphy has been outstanding as well, despite giving up six goals Friday, he kept the Otters in the game early.

Second, a pair of Otters find themselves among the league leaders in key offensive categories. Chad Yetman has five goals. That’s ted for second with a bunch of others as of this writing. And Max Golod has 2-7-9 in five games. His nine points is tied for second in the OHL. Oh and Jamie Drysdale has eight points of his own after getting three on Saturday.

Key players are stepping up at the right time and it’s turning into a winning formula early for the Otters. They now need to take advantage of this home stand. A successful four games coming up will be huge for their confidence in showing that they are finally on the way up.

Jamie Drysdale, OHL, Erie Otters
Jamie Drysdale is off to a tremendous start in his draft season helping the Otters through a slew of injuries. (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

4. Soo Greyhounds Keep Winning

London gets the press for being consistently good. Sault Ste. Marie is consistently good but in a more quiet way. They just keep piling on the wins no matter what else is going on league wide.

The Greyhounds became the first team in the OHL to win four games after knocking off Saginaw 6-4 on Saturday night. They will end the week with a perfect 4-0 record overall.

So while the attention goes to the Ottawa’s, the London’s, the Saginaw’s, the Barrie’s, the Kitchener’s of the world, Sault Ste. Marie just continues being consistent. It’s a sign of just how well run the organization is.

All this is happening while captain Barrett Hayton remains with the Arizona Coyotes. There’s a good chance he starts the season there. But if he does eventually come back, look out OHL. The Greyhounds could be primed for another run.

5. Tyson Foerster’s Huge Night

The one thing I love to see early in the season is which draft-eligible players make a huge early statement. Barrie forward Tyson Foerster was someone I didn’t have on my radar at all. But after a hat trick plus three assist performance on Saturday night, he has my attention.

In the Colts’ 7-3 win over the Mississauga Steelheads, Foerster went off for 3-3-6, +5 and seven shots on goal. The night could have been even bigger.

He is listed as a center and is 5-foot-11 and 172 pounds. Certainly he has a ways to go before he gets into any kind of consistent draft conversation. But anytime you lay down a six-point performance, you get my attention. Foerster is someone I will pay closer attention to as the season moves on to see if he can continue to put up impressive numbers.

Tyson Foerster, OHL, Barrie Colts
Tyson Foerster recorded a hat trick and three assists Saturday vs. Mississauga. (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

6. League-Leading Scoring D-Men!

I don’t know. There’s just something about a defenseman leading the league in scoring that just gives me goosebumps. I know it’s early. But it’s still mighty impressive. Yet the player is someone you might not expect, unless you follow the Saginaw Spirit closely.

So the two players with 10 points after Saturday’s games are Connor McMichael of London, no surprise there. The other is Spirit defenseman Ilya Solovyov. He has 1-9-10 in his first four games with the Spirit after coming over from Belarus via the import draft. The Spirit chose him 53rd overall in this past draft.

One thing is clear. Solovyov is used to success. He won silver medals at both the Division 1 World Championships and Division 1 World Junior Championships for Belarus. He’s also 6-foot-3 and over 200 pounds. Although the Spirit aren’t off to the start they had hoped at just 1-2-1, Solovyov has impressed and has shown why he had the option of going to the KHL as well. He chose major junior hockey hoping to carve an NHL path for himself. He’s off to a nice start. Given the upside the Spirit have, I get the feeling this won’t be the last we hear from Solovyov this season.

7. Mark’s Rant: Early OHL Suspensions

Time to blow off my weekly steam. What the heck gives with all these early suspensions? Since Aug. 31, the OHL has handed down 42 games worth of suspensions already! That could be more suspensions than games played to this point. If not, it’s surely close!

And for the most part, these plays are stupid and unnecessary. Why would this play by Christian Sbaraglia even happen? There’s no good reason to do this. Ever.

But that’s not nearly all. Marco Rossi got five games. Jamieson Rees got six games. Jacob Tortora got eight games. These aren’t little fouls that are happening.

I get that hockey is an emotional games full of momentum swings and sometimes things get a little crazy. But at the end of the day, these plays do not belong in hockey no matter the situation. Hopefully the rest of the season doesn’t go like this. But if the players don’t reel themselves in soon, it could get even worse than it is now.

Calm down boys. Seriously. We’d rather see you playing than not especially over something very dumb and unnecessary. End rant.

There will be no OHL Sunday Seven next week as I will be following the Columbus Blue Jackets. But we’ll be back the week after. Enjoy the games everyone.