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Nick Merkley was last year’s WHL rookie of the year. He also played for Team Canada at last summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament, putting up four points in five games, and winning a gold medal. Merkley carried that momentum into the regular season, as he has helped the Kelowna Rockets have a tremendous season. The club was been ranked amongst the best teams in the CHL for all year long, and ended up finishing 53-13-5 for 112 points and second overall in the WHL. Merkley was a major reason for the team’s success, leading the Rockets in overall scoring with 90 points (20 goals 70 assists). He’s put up 12 points in 9 playoff games as the Rockets are 8-1 so far and are awaiting the determination of their opponent for the WHL Western Conference Finals.
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born May 23 1997 — Calgary, ALTA
Height 5.11 — Weight 191 [180 cm/87 kg]
Nick Merkley is currently listed at 5’10” and size is the major knock against him. Despite the size, Merkley isn’t afraid to go to the net, and to battle in the dirty areas of the ice; fighting for pucks in the corners or battling in the front of the net. He is also willing to drive the net both with and without the puck. With his excellent balance, and good lower body strength, he is hard to knock off the puck. He’s got excellent offensive skills including superb vision and passing ability. Merkley sees the ice very well, and can thread a tape-to-tape pass through the smallest of openings. Merkley has high-end hockey IQ and almost always seems to make the smart play with the puck on his stick. He uses good stick handling and puck protection in the cycle game to extend plays and wait for his teammates to get open. While Merkley is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, he also has an accurate shot and good release. He could stand to shoot the puck more though, as he just doesn’t use that good shot enough. He could stand to add some upper body strength to make his shot harder though, as it is just a bit above average in that department.
Nick Merkley is a very good skater with a solid stride. He has a low centre of gravity, and good lower body strength which gives him great balance and strength. He is very difficult to knock off the puck, and wins board battles. Merkley has very good speed and acceleration as well. He has the ability to change speeds and very his approach, which can make him tough to handle for defenders. Merkley’s agility and edgework make him extremely elusive, and he can beat defenders to the net, both on the rush and in the cycle game.
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.
Below are some videos of Nick Merkley in action.
Be sure to come back tomorrow for the number 20 ranked prospect on my draft board.
Main Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images