GLENDALE - Nick Merkley has been a member of the Coyotes organization since Arizona drafted him 30th overall in 2015.
And yet, because of multiple injuries, Merkley hasn't gotten a lengthy opportunity to show the team exactly what he can do on the ice wearing Coyotes gear. He's hoping to get that now during rookie camp and then at training camp with the veterans later this week.
"Nick's a skilled, right-shot winger who creates a lot of plays and who's super smart," General Manager John Chayka said. "He also plays with a little bit of bite to his game, which we like. He's a first-round draft pick for a reason and we still value him very highly, just like we did when we drafted him."
Merkley just spent six-plus months recovering from a major knee injury he suffered in February while playing a game for the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. He reported to Coyotes Development Camp in July but didn't skate with his peers, plus he had to sit and watch them play an intra-squad scrimmage in front of about 3,500 fans that closed the camp.
In addition to that injury, about this time a year ago he suffered an upper-body injury early in rookie camp and wasn't seen again.
To say he's eager to get back on Coyotes ice and stay there would be an understatement.
"It's really nice to finally have an opportunity to play my game and show them what I have and what I can do, and see where that takes me," said Merkley, who skated Saturday and Sunday with his peers at rookie camp. "Obviously you always want to be healthy and out there playing with your teammates, but when you're injured you just have to stay positive through it all and keep pushing to get through your rehab. It was really tough at this year's development camp to just sit in the crowd and watch the guys play that scrimmage. But the guys were really good to me at the camp and made me feel part of what was going on even though I couldn't play."
Despite playing just 43 games for Kelowna last season, Merkley ranked sixth on the team with 48 points (17 goals, 31 assists). In 182 games with the Rockets from 2012-16 he notched 196 points (62 goals, 134 assists).
Merkley is one of three right wings the Coyotes management staff is watching closely at rookie camp. Power forward Christian Fischer and crafty playmaker Conor Garland are the others.
"It's my time now and I'm going to show what I have at this camp," Merkley said. "I feel really good right now. I think I've spent more time in the gym this summer than I did in any other summer, and my body feels really good. I'm going to try to earn a spot with the Coyotes if there is one. That's my goal - to try and make that jump to the NHL this year. We'll see how it turns out."
Chayka is eager to see how Merkley performs over the next few weeks.
"He's had to overcome some injuries but I think he'll be better off for it just in terms of learning about his body and physical preparation," Chayka said. "He's one of the hardest working guys that we've got and I certainly appreciate the work he's put in this summer to get back to where he's at. It's exciting to see him competing in camp."