The Journey: Checking in on the 2018 Draft Class (#21-31)

Benjamin Gehrels

2021-12-18

Welcome back to The Journey, where we follow hockey prospects and their paths to the NHL, providing Fantasy predictions and analysis along the way. This week, we'll continue our retrospective on the 2018 NHL entry draft providing updates on performance since the draft, future outlooks, and pick grades.

In case you missed it, check out Part One (picks #1-10) and Part Two (#11-20), which contain an explanation of Breakout Threshold (BT) as well as the terminology borrowed from Hockey Prospecting: Star Producer, Average Producer, Developing, and Bust.

This week, we'll kick things off by looking at the final ten picks of the 2018 draft's first round.

21st (SJ) – Ryan Merkley

1 pt in 6 GP

Verdict: Developing

Heading into this year, it looked like Merkley may have become a Bust. His once-high trade value hit rock bottom, he'd only scored 11 pts in 31 AHL GP the year before, and Sharks observers noted in training camp that the flipside of his lauded blue line creativity was repeated turnovers of “the egregious variety in that they led directly to odd-man rushes.”

Since then, Merkley had a six-game audition with the Sharks (one goal) before being sent back down to the AHL Barracudas. He currently has the same number of points as last year in half the games, an indication that he’s becoming more comfortable in the pros.

He’s still only 21 and will have to play several NHL seasons to reach his Breakout Threshold, but his blueprint seems pretty set by now: he’s a low-floor, high-ceiling type who could either score 70+ points or stay stapled to the bench in a coach’s doghouse—the kind of player that’s fun to gamble on but frustrating to own. Even if he ends up having a successful NHL career, Merkley will have much less fantasy value in multi-cat formats than points-only; his peripherals are paltry in the vein of Quinn Hughes. Comparables in terms of career progression include Michael Del Zotto (remember the hype when he scored 38 points as a rookie?) and Samuel Girard.

This kind of star potential (64%) doesn’t come around every day, and that D+3 data is from his shaky AHL rookie season last year. Players with this kind of profile rarely miss. But will Merkley become a Del Zotto or a Girard? This year will be critical.