2005 Prospects: Riley Merkley

By Aaron Vickers

“Central Scouting doesn’t have a pick in the draft, that’s what I like to think.”

It was a simple and candid response from Calgary Hitmen forward Riley Merkley on the stock he puts into Central Scouting, who revealed their mid-term rankings in early January, placing the Blackie, Alberta native 79th among North American skaters.

“They’re there and you look at them once or twice. That’s all,” said Merkley, in his second season with the Hitmen franchise. “I try not to think about those too much.”

Merkley, a talented defensive forward with underrated upside and a respectable set of hands, has 15 goals and 26 points in 64 games. He’s doing his best to block out any thought of an NHL Entry Draft, unwilling to put any additional pressure on himself to perform.

“It’s definitely there,” explained Merkley. “It’s always in the back of your mind, but if you think about it all the time you’re putting added pressure on yourself and you’re not going to be as effective as you should be. It’s there to remind you of something to strive for.

“You just have to worry about it when the date rolls around.”

As the young 6’3, 175lb center is finding out, though, that task is easier said than done. With the Western Hockey League season drawing closer and closer to a close, scouts and player personnel are attending games more and more frequently, judging players on every shift they skate.

And with three other teammates, defensemen Dylan Yeo and Dustin Kohn and left winger Brodie Dupont all eligible for the next draft, there’s plenty to see in the city of Calgary.

Both Kohn and Merkley represented the Hitmen in the 2005 CHL Top Prospects Game, held in Vancouver, British Columbia, in February. Kohn, ranked 75th among North American skaters by Central Scouting, was originally announced to the team. Merkley was named as an injury replacement.

Despite being a late addition, it was a weekend that Merkley will never forget.

“(The atmosphere) was intimidating, I guess,” remarked Merkley. “It was one of the things that come to mind.”

Although it is difficult to judge a player based on one game, Merkley explained the pressure of the entire hockey world focused on one weekend was a little daunting.

“It was a whole new thing for everyone there and it’s a lot of pressure for a short weekend,” Merkley admitted. “Even though you say it’s not nerve-wracking, you’re always going to think of it, it’ll always be in the back of your head.”

When asked if there was any way that the weekend could be purely recreational for the former ninth overall selection in the 2002 Bantam Draft, Merkley shrugged.

“There’s no way around it,” he said. “There were a lot of fans and a lot of important people watching, so it was good. It was really fun; it was a blast and something I’ll definitely look back on.”

Not only is it something for Merkley to cherish in the future, but it also serves him a purpose in the present. With the elite of the Canadian Hockey League’s draft eligible players in attendance, the lanky center used the opportunity to skate in Vancouver as a yardstick for comparison.

“You can judge yourself of where you are, when you go to (the top prospects game), so that’s more important to me than any Central Scouting Ranking.”

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.