The curtain fell on the CHL season yesterday, with the Oshawa Generals taking the Memorial Cup over the Kelowna Rockets in a 2-1 overtime victory, signifying that we're one step closer to the draft. It was the last chance for potential draft picks to show their worth on Major Junior's toughest stage.
You can only admire the path teams and their players take to get to this level. A team has to be dominant throughout the entire year not only in their respective league, but throughout the entire country (unless you're the host). It's not always the team with the superstar that wins it: in the past 10 years (assuming McDavid goes first overall), only two first overall draft picks lifted the Cup the month prior, and only four have even had their team enter the tournament. It more so comes down to the players you don't know over the ones that you do.
Today, we are profiling Kelowna Rocket Nick Merkley, a key factor in Kelowna's trip to the Memorial Cup. He finished tied for third in Memorial Cup scoring, and also finished third in WHL playoff scoring, one point behind Leon Draisaitl and Nic Petan, which is not bad company at all. He's been outshone in Kelowna by the German pivot, and isn't talked about much when it comes to the draft, but he can be a solid addition to any team in the league.
|Birthdate||May 23rd, 1997|
|NHL Central Scouting Ranking||23 NA (13 midterm)|
|NHLe (Draft -1)||19|
Merkley's key strength is his playmaking, as seen by the 99 assists he put up this year in all competitions. He looks for the pass first, and often makes the right one with pinpoint accuracy. Scouting reports indicate that his best skills may not be the ones that always end up on the scoresheet. He is adept at zone entries, and will often find a way to carry rather than dump.
His vision and quickness are two attributes that work hand-in-hand for Merkley. He blazes by defenders, finding space and making it count. Merkley's been compared to Jordan Eberle, and for good reason. Both play a similar game, with similar size and skill. I know we all hate Eberle, but if Merkley turns out to be a similar player, it isn't all that bad.
Despite his short frame, Merkley uses all 187 pounds when playing. He is a physical guy, using his body effectively on the forecheck and backcheck. He isn't easily muscled off the puck, wins most of his corner battles, and is willing to go in front of the net. He's a functionally tough guy for someone his size, which will be a useful NHL asset.
Despite his overall excellent understanding at the game, Merkley still struggles with the finer points, namely skating, puckhandling, and defensive decision making. While these can all come with time, that in itself is a bit of a problem. How much development will Merkley need before he is NHL ready, and will he be able to grow to that level? If he doesn't improve, I think he will still be a decent NHL player, but these flaws will certainly make him more one-dimensional.
The bigger issue with Merkley, the one that caused his drop on the rankings sheet, was his production drop off. He was scoring 1.47 PPG in the first half of the season, but dropped to 1.00 PPG in the second half. That number is a bit confusing considering he had wonderkid Leon Draisaitl with him for that second half. He did return to form during the WHL playoffs, scoring 1.42 PPG against the top teams in the Dub, but the issue of consistency still persists. Maybe the drop could be due to an injury that he chose to play through, but we haven't heard news yet. Which Merkley will teams draft come June 26th?
Merkley will be attractive to the Flames for a number of reasons. He's a right winger on a team with only one right winger, and will be a good fit considering the future of the team. There aren't a lot of playmakers on the team right now, and the Flames are in dire need of some. With a mixture of both playmakers (Bennett, Granlund) and pure scorers (Poirier, Klimchuk) coming up through the pipeline, Merkley seems in prime position to play along side some mutually complimentary players.
But for the #15 pick? It's could be a stretch. The added risk with Merkley could scare the Flames away from taking him that high. Throughout this series, I've pondered the likelihood of the Flames trading back into the late first round. If they happen to do so, I don't think that Merkley would be there in the mid to late 20s, so it's either do or die at #15.
Why draft him?
- Smart playmaker who can take control of the game
- Physical beyond his height
- Loads of potential
- Played with the enemy, knows him well, and will crush him when the time comes
- He follows in the footsteps of current Flames winger Micheal Ferland, and nicknamed himself "merkdaddy4" on Twitter
Why not draft him?
- A bit of risk associated with his production drop
- More NHL-ready prospects available at #15
Despite hitting a slump post-January, he still put up a ludicrous amount of points this season as a 17-year-old. Merkley could be a bit of a stretch at #15, but could also pay large dividends for the club. If you're concerned about the NHL's ranking for him, other scouting agencies are a bit more generous towards him, ranking him around the 17-19 range. Overall, he's a very good pick, and you shouldn't be disappointed if Brad Treliving calls his name.
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