Nick Merkley has an inside track to the National Hockey League. The 18-year-old Kelowna Rockets standout has already received an up-close-and-personal look at what it’ll take to get to the pro level.
Training at Crash Conditioning in Calgary’s southeast alongside the likes of NHLers Jordan Eberle, Mike Green and Thomas Hickey, Merkley has been able to see first-hand the off-ice commitment it takes to make the jump from junior.
"It's pretty cool seeing them in the gym every day," Merkley told NHL.com in February. "Obviously you're star-struck but you're trying to focus on your workout and things like that. It's good to see how hard they work on the gym and on the ice.
"I got to skate with them a few times in the summer. It's pretty cool seeing how hard they work, even in practice. The best players have to get better every day and they're always working hard. It's good seeing that kind of stuff."
But he isn’t about to be star-struck. Far from it, in fact.
Merkley insisted he hasn't allowed himself to get wide-eyed with some of the NHL elite in his presence. He instead hopes to challenge them soon.
"If I go in the draft this year I might be competing against these guys in [training] camp," Merkley said. "You want to set yourself up good. Comparing yourself is kind of a stretch but I'll be competing for spots with NHLers pretty soon so you have to start preparing yourself for that."
Merkley’s off-ice look has already benefited him at the rink.
After earning Western Hockey League rookie of the year honours in 2013-14, the Calgary product amassed 70 assists and 90 points in 72 games with the Rockets this season to finish sixth overall in Western Hockey League scoring. He also helped Kelowna to the Ed Chynoweth Cup, collecting 27 points in 19 games.
The Rockets, with Merkley, served as the Memorial Cup runner-up to Hunter Smith and the Oshawa Generals.
Born: May 23, 1997
Hometown: Calgary, AB
Team: Kelowna (WHL)
CSS Rank: 23rd among North American Skaters
FC Rank: 17th overall
ISS Rank: 19th overall
Zenon Herasymiuk of Future Considerations: "Merkley is one of the hardest working, edgiest players in the entire draft class. Has a dynamic skill set which compliments his on-ice attitude, making him a difficult player to contain. Every time he steps on the ice he makes you take notice."
Dennis MacInnis of International Scouting Service: “Very gifted offensive player. Has all the skills required to play NHL. Would like to see him be more effective at even strength but has the talent to win games single handily.”
John Williams of Central Scouting: "Nick, he's a highly-rated player for us, I saw him play a lot and he's very consistent. Over time when you see him play, he always does something to help his team. He's very smart, he has very good vision, makes plays in tight other players don't. He's a competitive kid that works at his game and he's had a heck of a year. What he's done here (Memorial Cup) will do nothing but help."
As a lead-in to the 2015 NHL Draft, CalgaryFlames.com will outline potential targets for the Calgary Flames with the 15th overall pick in the first round on draft day on June 26th.