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SAN JOSE — Sharks prospect Ryan Merkley is heading back to the Ontario Hockey League.

Merkley, the Sharks’ first round draft choice in 2018, was reportedly traded by the Peterborough Petes to the London Knights on Thursday. Merkley was scheduled to leave the Bay Area later Thursday evening to return to Southern Ontario and join his new team Friday, Darren Dreger of TSN first reported.

Could Mario Ferraro find himself becoming an everyday part of the San Jose Sharks line-up next season?
After reports surfaced that Radim Simek won’t likely be ready to play for the San Jose Sharks at the start of the season. Attention turned to 21-year-old prospect Mario Ferraro and his potential impact on the opening night roster.

The Sharks have given Ferraro a fair shake to earn minutes in the NHL. San Jose’s 2nd round pick in 2017 got penciled into 3 of their preseason games placing second on the team in overall ice-time trailing only Tim Heed.

It appears that Team Teal might have known all along that Simek wasn’t ready for the start of the season considering the amount of hockey their letting the prospect play during these preseason contest.

He’s definitely made a strong case for himself with his ability to transition the puck with relative ease using his skate speed and passing prowess. To go along with this the blueliner has a puck scorers mentality and isn’t afraid to play aggressively in the offensive zone to generate passing and shooting lanes.

There have been moments where he’s been caught out of position because of this type of assertiveness, nevertheless he makes up for it by getting back on defense using his hustle and strong edges.

All signs are pointing to Ferraro becoming an everyday fixture of this Sharks line-up. NBCSN Bay Area’s Chelena Goldman got an idea of what Coach Pete DeBoer is seeing from the defenseman’s performance throughout his time in camp.

Ferraro has essentially guaranteed himself a spot on the roster opening night but is it possible that we see the young blueliner become an everyday skater on the Sharks for the entire 2019 – 2020 season?

Along with Simek’s injury timeline the Sharks also have to decide whether they will burn a year of Ferraro’s newly signed entry-level contract that he signed this off-season. They have 9 games to decide but judging by his level of play this preseason it shouldn’t come as a surprise if we see him becoming a permanent member of the big club.

Ferraro provides another puck moving presence on the blueline that fits right into the Sharks style of play. Stylistically adding Ferraro to the bench lets San Jose have 3 defenders who are capable of trekking the puck through all 3 zones while also providing an offensive spark. With Team Teal searching for answers on offense they’ll likely try anything to help boost their overall production without having to shed any of their assets.

Regardless of the where Ferraro ends up after Simek returns the kid obviously has a bright future within the organization. Now with just a week remaining of training camp festivities the Sharks have some tough decisions to make pertaining to the career trajectory of the left-handed blueliner.

Merkley, 19, played in one preseason game, collecting two assists in the Sharks’ 4-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Sept. 17. More recently, Merkley had to miss time in training camp as he went through concussion protocol. He practiced with the Sharks on Tuesday and was with the Barracuda for their practice on Wednesday.

“It’s been good,” Merkley said Tuesday when there were mostly NHL veterans left in camp. “Practicing with these guys is pretty incredible, the pace out there. The high-end talent we’ve got out there is pretty exciting.”

Since Merkley will not turn 20 until next August and ineligible to play games for the Barracuda of the AHL, the Sharks’ only options for him at this point were to either keep him to start the season or return him to junior.

Merkley’s chances of cracking the Sharks’ roster this season were slim at best. A right shot defenseman, Merkley was behind Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and Tim Heed on the Sharks’ depth chart. The Sharks also signed veteran NHL defenseman Dalton Prout to a one-year contract in July.

Still, the Sharks had been happy with Merkley’s camp and the way he had grown as a player since he was drafted over a year ago.

“He shows enough certainly on the hockey IQ and skills part that he fits with the NHLers,” Sharks assistant general manager Joe Will said of Merkley earlier this week.

At 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, Merkley will never be a bulky defenseman, but he still needs to add strength to compete at the NHL level.

“You’re going to have to bear down and defend in front and in your own zone, take care of pucks,” Merkley said. “If you get sloppy in junior, guys don’t always take advantage. Here you’ve got (Evander) Kane, (Joe) Thornton, (Erik) Karlsson, (Brent) Burns and it’ll be in the back of your net, and you’ll be watching from up top.

“That all comes with age, time and experience.”

Eaerlier this month, it was revealed that the Petes were looking to trade Merkley to another OHL team. Peterborough had acquired Merkley from Guelph in December. In 35 games with the Petes, Merkley had 32 points in 35 games.

Will said the Sharks did not want to get involved in what was happening at the junior hockey level.

“We’re Switzerland,” he said. “We don’t get in involved in that junior team stuff. In the Ontario League, there’s always movement.”

The Knights, under coach Dale Hunter, have won four OHL championships since the 2004-05 season and the Memorial Cup in 2005 and 2016.

“I’ll be taken care of once I get sent back. Can’t really do anything here but wait to get sent back, whenever that is,” Merkley said Tuesday.

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