Nation Network Prospect Profiles: #15 Nick Merkley

Nick Merkley is a fun player to watch. He may be smart and small, but he likes to play hard, work hard, and has some dynamic features to his game.

One of the best players coming out of the WHL this year ranks 15th overall in our list.

Bio:

  • Age: 17.32 years old at start of season. Born May 23, 1997.
  • Birthplace: Calgary, AB
  • Frame: 5’10, 179 lbs
  • Draft Year Team: Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
  • Accomplishments: WHL Rookie of the Year 2013-2014, WHL (West) Second All-Star Team 2014-15, WHL Champion 2014-15, WHL Playoffs Most Assists 2014-15, Hlinka Memorial Gold Medal 2014-15,  CHL Top Prospects Game 2014-15, CHL Memorial Cup All-Star Team 2014-15

Stats:

GP ES G ES A1 ES A2 ES Pts ES Pts/GP ES GF% ES GF% Rel TmG% TmPts% AA Pts/GP EA Pts/GP Adj Pts/GP
72 12 23 11 46 0.64 65.0% +2.0 6.62 29.8 1.38 1.42 1.29
  • TmG% = Percentage of team goals a player scored in that player’s games played
  • TmPts% = Percentage of team goals a player registered points on in that player’s games played
  • AA Pts/GP = Age adjusted points per game
  • EA Pts/GP = Era and league adjusted points per game
  • Adj Pts/GP = Age, era, and league adjusted points per game
PCS% 2014 PCS Pts/82 2014 PCS% 2015 PCS Pts/82 2015
22.6 52.1 24.0% 46.8
PCS Most NHL GP PCS Highest Pts/GP
Steve Yzerman Steve Yzerman
Pat Verbeek Ray Sheppard
Ray Whitney Ray Whitney

Scouts:

Draft rank:

NHL CSS ISS FutureConsiderations HockeyProspect Pronman McKeen’s McKenzie Button
23 (NA) 19 17 14 15 17

From Curtis Joe, Elite Prospects:

A playmaking center that has an excellent eye for the game; sees the ice like a hawk from above. Creates scoring chances and on-ice energy through taking advantage of puck-possession and making the most of turnovers. Incredible work ethic; will battle against larger players and isn’t afraid to do the dirty work in front of the net. Does not possess the largest frame or a dynamic level of skating; however, he does boast a remarkably high level of Hockey-IQ and a deep understanding of the game. There is something left to be desired having observed his individual skills, such as puckhandling, footspeed, and decision-making, for a prolonged period of time; there is definitely room for improvement in the small areas of his game. All-in-all, Merkley brings a medley of skill, smarts, and work ethic to the table, making him an invaluable asset as a Center.

From Craig Button, TSN:

Nick has a motor that never stops. He simply doesn’t take kindly to resistance and is always pushing through obstacles. He’s smart and knows how to take full advantage of his skills and combined with his determination, he’s an undeniable force. Can play centre or wing and with improved speed will become even more dangerous and prolific.

From Cody Nickolet, Dub From Above:

Nick Merkley is a hard-driving playmaker for the Kelowna Rockets…possesses a strong lower-body with sharp edges that allow him to really drive and power his way around the ice…has the agility to go east-west when the situation calls for it thanks to immensely advanced inside edges…that edgework allows him to shimmy and shake when he needs to, opening up a defenders hips and giving Merkley that half step needed to get around his man off the rush…straight line speed is good but not great, having room to improve as he gets stronger thanks to his understanding of edgework…has a remarkable set of hands with the ability to handle the puck and make plays at absolute top speed…has an understanding of offensive spacing and timing in regards to his passing…has a definite playmaking lean to his game and has the ability to execute tough passes while making them look easy…despite his driving offensive style and tempo, he doesn’t rush decisions with the puck and is fine to keep the biscuit to wait for a lane to open…is also great at making subtle moves with his head or stick to open up a small passing lane…protects the puck well considering his lack of size and length…does have a tendency to be a bit too fancy with the puck at times, resulting in unnecessary turnovers or missed medium-percentage chances…owns an above-average shot with a good release but can be accused of passing up shots from time to time…possesses strong offensive hockey sense and knows how to find space around the opposing net…his hard-driving and darting style sometimes leads to him taking big hits, even though he can take them as he’s built like a brick shithouse with a thick frame and low centre of gravity…his firm frame and strong skating base make him extremely tough to knock off the puck when he has it, making him a dangerous player off the cycle…despite his lack of height he likes to play to contact including throwing the odd bone-rattling check of his own…I don’t think you will ever confuse him with being a defensive specialist currently…defensive play would be an area that can use some work on his end but it’s not a super big weakness relative to other prospects in this draft thanks to his well above-average hockey sense…is willing to come back and defend his house when necessary and his up-tempo style translates fairly well off the puck…spent nearly the entire season alongside Rourke Chartier and Tyrell Goulbourne on Kelowna’s top line (48 of their final 62 regular season games) while also playing the powerplay…offensive production sputtered a bit while Chartier was away at World Junior Camp, which was a bit of a concern…despite being listed as a centre he spent the vast majority of the year playing right-wing…overall I see Merkley as a legit top 15-20 talent despite his lack of an ideal frame and despite the fact that his offensive production was aided by the powerplay and great teammates…while I admit my 4th-ranked player Harkins has a more well-rounded game and would be a “safer” pick in the traditional sense, Merkley’s pure upside wins out on this list…he’s one of the better pure offensive player’s in the draft, has the grit and oomph to go with it while also possessing very few overall weaknesses…ultimately I think he probably projects more as a winger but the fact that he’s done both at the WHL level leaves his future NHL team with some options there…his look on the ice reminds me a lot of a guy like Bryan Little (although Little has more of a shoot-first mentality) and I wouldn’t be shocked if the two ended up having similar offensive totals once their careers are over…I think Merkley projects as a top 6 scorer who won’t be guilty of taking many shifts off and will come off the board sometime within the top 20 or 25 picks come June’s draft.

Our Take:

As Canuck’s Army manager extraordinaire loves to point out, Nick Merkely is a playmaker to a fault. There has been multiple situations where the Kelowna Rocket is in a good scoring position, only to lose it from trying to force a pretty play (Editor’s note: I once saw him buttonhook on a clear-cut shorthanded breakaway to try and thread a pass through Mason Geertsen’s skates to a trailing teammate. It didn’t work). Sometimes it works out, but this is the largest fault we can find on Merkley. Once Merkley learns how and when to shoot more, he will become a more rounded offensive player and likely improve his playmaking due to being less predictable.

Other than some concerns on size, there are not too many other issues with Nick Merkley.

Merkley played on the very powerful Kelowna Rockets. Early in the season there were some indications that the Rockets’ record was inflated due to shooting percentages, Rourke Chartrier was scoring over a goal per game. This changed though when the Rockets made a blockbuster trade, acquiring two legitimate WHL stars in Josh Morrissey and Leon Draisaitl.

Still, it’s one thing to be on a good team, and another thing to be a major reason why a team is good.

Merkley was 16th in the entire WHL for points per game and third on his team, when including Draisaitl. When adjusting for age we find Merkely move up to 4th in the Dub and first for the Rockets.

There are some indications of inflation though. Merkley sits 4th in the Rockets Goals Created per Game statistic and third in Percentage of Team’s Goals Created. Merkley only scored on 29.8 per cent of his team points, which is less than the draft eligible players Mathew Barzal, Jake DeBrusk, or Jansen Harkins.

There are some legitimate qualitative factors though that place Merkley ahead of Harkins and DeBrusk in terms of ceiling. Above, Friend of The Blog Cody Nickolet discusses the reasoning on why Merkley stands out as the more offensive ceiling friendly player relative to the Harkins and Debrusks.

While Merkley projects as a NHL player in the not-as-premium wing position, his upside cannot be ignored. Merkley has carried two strong back-to-back seasons with some very interesting statistical cohorts, the best being Stevie-Y.

There are quite a few other interesting offensive cohorts that come up as well: Derek Roy, Ray Whitney, Jordan Eberley, Jeff Skinner, Valeri Bure, Tyler Toffoli, Brendan Gallagher, etc.

Merkley’s PCS% sitting just under 25 percent indicates that the worries about his height may be at least a little founded, but we’re also of the mind that height has been a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing in the past. However, due to his sheer upside and dynamic play, Merkley ranks highly in our list here at the Nation Network. We think he could be an exciting top-6 forward in the NHL one day.

  • orcasfan

    “While Merkley projects as a NHL player in the not-as-premium wing position, his upside cannot be ignored. Merkley has carried two strong back-to-back seasons with some very interesting statistical cohorts, the best being Stevie-Y.”

    90% of the players profiled have had Stevie-Y as a cohort!

    • orcasfan

      Ya, i’m a bit confused. in draft eligibile year – merkley: 1.25 ppg. yzerman: 1.63 ppg. assume either merkley is at the bottom of the range and yzerman is at the very top of the range that you guys used or it’s just a mistake. that’s a pretty big range.

  • orcasfan

    How does Merkley fare when it comes to scoring at evens versus PP? I vaguely remember seeing that he’s not great at evens, even compared to someone like Harkins, not noted for his offense.