The St. Louis Blues missed the playoffs for the first time since 2011, ending a six-year run of making the postseason.
It was almost shocking because the Blues were tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for first place in the NHL after 31 games—going 21-8-2. After December 10th, the Blues went 23-24-4 in their final 51 games—the 10th worst record in the NHL over that span.
The Blues would have had their highest draft pick since 2010—when they took Jaden Schwartz 14th overall. However, they dealt the No.14 pick to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Brayden Schwartz trade. When they fell out of playoff contention, they traded Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets and that leaves them with the No.29 pick.
They also acquired Erik Foley in that deal and he instantly became one of their top prospect. Foley is a 20-year-old winger who the Jets originally picked in the third-round (No.78 overall) in 2015 and he’s been great at Providence College. Foley has scored 31 goals with 38 assists (69 points) in 74 games over the last two seasons. The only players ahead of Foley in the Blues’ system is Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas. Kyrou was taken No.35 overall in 2016 and this season he finished third in the OHL’s point race—scoring 39 goals (tied for 10th) and 70 assists (tied for 1st) in just 56 games—leading the league with a 1.95 points per game. Thomas was taken at No.20 and he split his season between London and Hamilton, amassing 24 goals and 51 assists (75 points) in 49 games—the seventh best points-per-game (1.53) in the OHL.
With the No.29 Overall Pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, the St. Louis Blues select…
Ryan Merkley — RHD — Canada ????????
With three great forward prospects, the Blues need to add a defenseman to the system. Merkley is a mercurial prospect that has scouts completely torn on him. Merkley’s offensive flair could make him a top-10 pick, but he’s been labeled as having character issues and really needs work in his own end. Here’s an example of one of his issues.
@Storm_City Ryan Merkley takes a slash and gives retaliatory baseball swing to @OHLBattalion Daniel Walker. Merkley gets a 5 min slash, Unsportsmanlike Misconduct & Game Misconduct #OHL Guelph wins 3-2 OT pic.twitter.com/HWSXizYVhN
— Troy Izlakar ???????? (@izzies44) February 4, 2018
However, some teams will overlook some of his deficiencies to draft his upside. At just 17-years-old, Merkley finished third among OHL defenseman in points with 67 (13G / 54A) in 63 games—fifth among blueliners in points-per-game (1.06).
If you watch the highlight tape below, you’ll see how gifted he is on his skates. Merkley is an elite skater and has absolutely outstanding puck skills. He has years to mature and learn the defensive side of the game. He is as big of a high-risk, high-reward prospect that’s available in this draft.
“At the end of the day, kids mature and I think teams realize that what you’re getting at 17 is not what you’re going to have at 22. And if you look at what his potential might be as a 22-year-old, it’s pretty attractive. If he matures, and his game comes to where you’re hoping it does, you have yourself a pretty good hockey player and probably one drafted in a position lower than what his talent level really is.” — Troy Dumville (NHL Central Scouting)
“Merkley is a high-tempo, smart, offensive-minded defenseman…shifty, with elite skating ability…smooth transitions from forwards to backwards…possesses explosive acceleration, and makes plays at top end speeds…isn’t afraid to lead the rush, and hold onto the puck in hopes of creating a play in the offensive zone…vision up the ice is absolutely elite…impressive when quarterbacking the power play and doing a good job of making consistently accurate breakout passes…has a deceptive slap-pass to teammates around the net…has a knack for getting the puck to the net through traffic with a quick, accurate release…his quick decision making and ability to read the play that really stand out…a good job of judging when to cover the front of the net or to go pressure the puck-carrier behind the net…good job of tracking players across his zone and using his stick to close off their passing options and take away space…will need to hit the weight room and improve defensive zone play…very high ceiling but also some risk…has high-end NHL upside generating offense from the back-end.” — Future Considerations