Today's profile is on Nick Merkley, a right wing with the WHL's Kelowna Rockets.
Nick Merkley, Center / Right Wing, 5-foot-11, 191 Pounds, Shoots Right
How high of a price are teams willing to pay to get the right piece to the puzzle?
That's a question that pops up most draft years when teams go "off the board" with their draft selections, and it's one that's already happening a lot when it comes to forward Nick Merkley of the Kelowna Rockets.
Merkley is certainly one of the most intriguing, yet polarizing, players that's projected to go in the first round of this year's draft. This season he led the powerhouse Rockets in scoring with 90 points in 72 games, and chipped in 27 points in 19 playoffs games as the Rockets bulldozed their way to a WHL championship. He also had five points in five games in the Memorial Cup, which Kelowna lost to the OHL's Oshawa Generals in the final game.
Yet, despite his high point totals and huge amounts of team success, Merkley finds himself narrowly excluded from the top tiers of draft-eligible players in most predictions and rankings. In most lists he finds himself in the 15-20 range.
Why is this? Most elite prospects generally succeed in one of two main areas: speed and size. If you don't excel in either area you usually drop, and while Merkley isn't exactly handicapped in both categories, he doesn't particularly excel in either. There are also concerns about how much he was "driving the bus" on a dominant Rockets team that featured seven players that have already been drafted by NHL teams.
Still, if you get too caught up into these criticisms you may totally miss just how good of a player Merkley truly is. Behind only Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Mathew Barzal, Merkley is the next best playmaker in the draft, hands down. His puck control is fantastic, and he's able to move the rubber biscuit around with both deft touches as well as whipping it across the ice. His offensive vision and creativity are elite, allowing him to read plays, find openings and dissect opposing defenses. And while he may be short he's still quite stocky, allowing him to play with an excellent level of intensity, not shying away from throwing big hits when he sees the right opportunity.
Essentially, Merkley is a specialist in the truest sense. He's absolutely lethal on the powerplay, and could be an incredibly dangerous offensive threat even strength when playing with the right linemates. If a team is looking for this exact type of player then they might just be in luck.
Which brings us to the Dallas Stars, specifically. As I touched on in my profile on Mathew Barzal, the Stars' prospect system doesn't have anyone that's a true playmaker or powerplay specialist. Merkley would be a risky pick, but he would certainly fill a hole on the team, and possibly be a better fit overall than a player like Mikko Rantanen or Lawson Crouse would.
An offensive forward that makes an impact in the game every time he touches the puck…improved skater this season and possess more jump in his step…not big by any stretch but shows a willingness to throw his weight around…impressive hockey sense and ability to think the game…very creative and crafty with the puck…plays a complete 200-foot game…a strong playmaker with impressive vision and touch on his passes…willing to take the puck to the net…has an effective shot that is quick off his stick
Nick Merkley is tenacious in the backcheck and uses his hockey IQ to anticipate plays and create turnovers. He gets the transition game going very quickly when he does steal pucks or intercept passes. He is willing to block shots and works to provide back pressure and support down low. Again more upper body strength would help him to contain opposing forwards down low in the cycle game. Merkley is the type of high-energy player who never takes a shift off and competes hard in all three zones, and is the type who will quickly become a coaches’ favorite. In terms of upside, Merkley can be a dynamic play making centre on the second line in the NHL, assuming he is given the time to develop and is able to reach his ceiling. His style is reminiscent of a cross between David Desharnais in terms of his hockey IQ, vision, passing ability, and accurate but underused shot, and Brendan Gallagher in his tenaciousness, battle in front of the net and in the corners and three zone play