On Friday afternoon, the Guelph Storm announced a trade with the Peterborough Petes sending standout defenceman Ryan Merkley to the Petes in exchange for forward Pavel Gogolev, and five draft picks, three of which are conditional on Merkley playing the 2019-20 season in Peterborough.
Merkley comes to Peterborough as one of the hottest commodities amongst junior hockey defencemen. After being taken first overall in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection, Merkley went on to win the OHL’s rookie of the year award in 2016-17, joining Aaron Ekblad as the only defencemen to win the award since 1995-96.
Merkley would follow up his impressive rookie campaign with a 67 point season in 2017-18, ranking third amongst all OHL defenders. His 54 assists were ninth among all OHL skaters. Despite Merkley’s offensive output, the Storm were ousted by Kitchener in the first round of the playoffs after six games. In the summer of 2018, Merkley was drafted 21st overall in the NHL Entry Draft by the San Jose Sharks.
After playing 28 games with the Storm in 2018-19, Merkley joins Peterborough as the OHL’s leading point-getter among defencemen, sits second in OHL assists with 34, and leaves Guelph tied for third all-time in points by a Storm defender at 161 with Matt Finn.
Pavel Gogolev was first selected by the Peterborough Petes just seven picks after Merkley was taken first overall in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection. After playing minor hockey in Canada, Gogolev jumped to the OHL in 2016-17 where he played 53 games, adding 11 points, but spent the majority of Peterborough’s Eastern Conference Finals run out of the lineup.
Gogolev’s offence began to flourish halfway through 2017-18 leading to 30 goals on the season, tying fellow Russian Nikita Korostelev for second most on a Petes team which fell out of the playoff picture. After being passed over in the NHL Entry Draft that summer, Gogolev was invited to training camp by the Detroit Red Wings in 2018.
Gogolev’s 2018-19 campaign has yet to yield similar results to his 2017-18 breakout season with just seven goals through his first 30 games.
Lot’s to bite off and chew with this trade on both sides, but let’s start off with the Guelph Storm. As Terry Doyle pointed out on Twitter this week, the move out of Guelph for Merkley doesn’t come as a surprise to many around the league. Merkley found much individual success through his two and a half seasons with the Storm, but also had some bumps in the road along the way. That’s what makes this such as a fascinating move for Guelph. The Storm are in a tight spot in the western conference at 39 points, good enough for fourth. But they’ve had difficulty with consistency since October in stringing wins together, and have had their fair share of forgettable performances. Despite having hovered around .500 for a portion of the season, the Storm still have a terrifically talented roster, although that talent pool takes a hit with the loss of Merkley.
Trading Merkley doesn’t necessarily mean the yard sale is on for Guelph. They get a talented goal-scorer in Gogolev to add to a lineup which already went out to grab Domenico Commisso at the start of the year to bolster the offence. Commisso hasn’t exactly been a home run for the Storm, but should Gogolev find the offensive flashes that allowed him to torch teams for seven multi-goal games last year, it might be enough to change the balance of Guelph’s season. The Storm also get a decent collection of draft picks coming their way, which they may very well hold on to for the future, but flipping some of them yet again to another team may also be in the cards. Guelph has both the time and assets to add pieces that fit a ‘win now’ philosophy, but do they have the patience to hold back with this group in hopes of going for it all another year?
For as much offensive potential as Guelph acquire in Gogolev, it should also be noted what they lose in production with Merkley. One of the best playmakers in the league, Guelph have willing parted with a key piece of their power play and offensive composition. He leaves behind a blueline that likely looks to Dmitri Samorukov as it’s primary puck-moving option, although Owen Lalonde has seen time on the power play before too. Merkley’s absence will be notable immediately, but given the uniqueness of his skillset and freelancing tendencies, it’s worth posing the question, are the Guelph Storm actually better with out Merkley?
After years of trading away star players such as Zack Kassian, Nick Ritchie, and Jonathan Ang, the Petes are finally bringing one into the organization via trade. After trading away Matt Timms to London, the Petes had a hole for a puck-moving defender to fill. Although Declan Chisholm has taken his two-way game to a new level, Merkley comes in as not just Peterborough’s top offensive defenceman, but top offensive player period. The Petes had only one player above a point-per-game (Nick Robertson) prior to this trade, and now bring in a power play wizard to help a team with a conference-worst 14.3% power play. There’s no denying the talent Merkley comes to Peterborough with. He’s the type of player every coach will admit can change the course of the game, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Rather fittingly, that’s the nature of this trade in itself for the Petes. Currently fifth in the east, there’s a lot of room to move in either direction.
For the ‘Merkley effect’ to properly take hold in Peterborough, he needs to be able to buy into Rob Wilson’s philosophy behind the bench. A new coach doesn’t always bode well for certain players, which may be part of the reason Gogolev has found a new home in Guelph. But for the Petes to pull the trigger on a deal of this magnitude, Mike Oke needs to have had confidence somewhere along the lines that Merkley will be a good fit underneath Wilson. If Merkley is the proper fit to the puzzle in Peterborough, this could be a slam dunk. They send out a player needing a change of scenery for a player that helps Peterborough this season, and likely next as well. As far as the draft picks go, this trade doesn’t happen without the Will Cuylle deal in August. The Petes used Windsor’s third round pick from that deal, and can cope with parting from their own second round selection in 2019 thanks to acquiring Kingston’s second round pick this year.
This trade is a blockbuster in every sense. The Petes unload a chunk of assets in exchange for a player whom Guelph have supposedly been considering moving for quite some time. Despite the talent heading each way, the deal doesn’t necessarily determine the path each club is headed for towards the looming trade deadline, but carries tremendous short-term impact for both organizations.