The Montreal Canadiens entered the trade deadline as a buyer for the first time since the 2016-17 season. While they never made a huge splash, they made necessary moves to improve their club’s depth. One of those additions was defenceman Jon Merrill, who they acquired from the Detroit Red Wings. While on paper it looks like a minor move, Jon Merrill will prove to be an important piece down the stretch.
Acquisition of Jon Merrill Will be Important to the Success of the Canadiens Down The Stretch
Doing a quick search on Merrill is not going to get Canadiens fans excited. He has just five assists in 36 games this season while posting a plus-two rating with 12 penalty minutes. Being a plus on a poor Detroit team is pretty impressive. However, it’s a very vague stat that shouldn’t be used to determine the strength of a player. However, Merrill wasn’t acquired by the Canadiens to provide a ton of offence, despite how much they might need it. He was brought in to provide solid depth to the Canadiens back end and provide some help in other areas that they struggle in.
Helping the Transition Game
While Merrill doesn’t provide a whole lot offensively in terms of his own production, he can help the Canadiens transition game. Merrill makes a great first pass. Because of this, he is excellent at starting the breakout for his team. This was a big piece of his game that made him a second-round pick for the New Jersey Devils in 2010. While he may not have amounted to the puck-moving defender they thought they had, he still is very effective at making the simple play and moving the puck out of the zone. He’s not going to come in and quarterback the powerplay or drive the offence like fans may want him to. However, he will help the Canadiens retrieve the puck in the defensive zone and quickly turn the other way on offence. Which is an area the Canadiens currently struggle with.
Merrill’s Versatility Extremely Beneficial to the Canadiens
One of the biggest reasons the Canadiens sought after Jon Merrill was because of his versatility. Jon Merrill is a left-shot defender and while he spent the majority of his career on the left side, he has spent the entire season playing on the right side for the Red Wings. This is a huge add for the Canadiens as they have used rookie Alexander Romanov playing his offside a lot this season, which they certainly don’t want. Merrill will be able to be used on the right side on the Canadiens bottom pairing. This will allow Romanov to settle in his natural position which will be better for the youngster’s development.
However, if the Canadiens feel the need to, they can also play Merrill on the left side next to Shea Weber. While Ben Chiarot returned during the weekend, the top pairing needs some more mobility. Chiarot and Weber have been paired together since the 2019-20 season and while they played decent together last season, the group has struggled this year. Weber especially, who has been playing some of the worst hockey of his career as of late. It’s no secret the captain needs help. Having a guy like Jon Merrill step in to add a more mobile defender to Weber’s side would be extremely beneficial. While the Habs may elect to keep the Chiarot-Weber pairing together, having a player like Merrill around who can move around the lineup as needed is something that is surely underrated.
Penalty Kill Specialist
Another reason the Canadiens acquired Merrill is his ability to kill penalties. Jon Merrill is an exceptional penalty killer. Merrill stands at 6-foot-3. His long frame and stick are something that helps him keep his opponents to the outside. He is also an exceptional shot blocker due to his outstanding positioning. At the time of his acquisition, Merrill had more blocked shots than anyone on the Canadiens roster. While the fact he played on a poor Red Wings team certainly contributed to that, the fact that he is willing to put his body on the line like that is nothing but good news for the Canadiens.
His ability to kill plays with excellent vision and poke checking abilities attribute to his ability to kill penalties. Merrill is excellent at suppressing scoring chances, and quickly getting the puck and making the simple play to clear the zone. The Canadiens have been poor on the penalty kill, killing just 77.2 percent which sits them in 22nd in the league. Acquiring Merrill should help raise that number.
The other benefit from this will be the fact that the Canadiens could elect to take Shea Weber off the penalty kill unit. Weber is wearing down as the season goes on. A lot of that has to do with playing a ton of gruelling minutes. And killing penalties is some of the hardest minutes the “Man Mountain” will log during a game. Allowing Merrill to eat some of these minutes from Weber would help Weber stay fresh throughout the game. Which, in turn, should help improve the play of the captain.
Merrill to be an Important Player for the Canadiens Down the Stretch
Where ever the Canadiens elect to play Merrill in their lineup, he will be extremely beneficial to the team. Whether that’s helping Alexander Romanov on the bottom pairing or helping Weber rediscover his game down the stretch, Merrill is going to be an important piece of this Canadiens roster down the stretch. While he’s not the household name fans were hoping the Canadiens would try to acquire at the deadline, he’s an extremely solid depth addition. His addition is reminiscent of the addition of Mike Weaver for the Canadiens before the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Merrill’s play will speak for itself, much like Weaver’s did during the Canadiens Cup run. Weaver became a fan favourite of the Habs faithful during that run. Expect much of the same from Jon Merrill.