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Jon Merrill Presented With Opportunity He's Been Waiting For

The defenseman, scratched since October 31, draws back into the lineup vs. Edmonton

by Dan Marrazza @GoldenKnights / VegasGoldenKnights.com

In a quiet corner of the visitors dressing room on Tuesday morning, Jon Merrill let out a smile.

Nothing too obvious, mind you. Just a little something. Although with the dirty-blonde mustache now emblazoned across his upper lip for Movember, you can't really see it much at all. It's pretty subtle.

His smile, not the mustache, we mean.

Since Merrill started growing his mustache about two weeks ago, a lot has happened for this team. But not much for Jon Merrill!

A healthy scratch the team's past five games since playing against the Rangers on Halloween night, Merrill has quietly waited for his opportunity. As he's played in only three games this season, lost a bit in the shuffle amongst the team's crowded blue line situation, he's quietly remained patient.

But as Luca Sbisa went down with a lower-body injury following Friday's game against the Winnipeg Jets, Merrill was informed by Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant that he'd finally be getting a chance to show what he's all about.

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Merrill was smiling this morning because he was told that his chance would come tonight, as he draws back into the lineup against the Oilers.

"Really excited," Merrill said. Excited to help this team win. Get out there with my teammates and go to battle."

For hockey players, the most difficult part of being out of the lineup is often the feeling that they're not helping their teammates.

For Merrill, it's also an opportunity to establish himself as an NHL player.

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A veteran of four NHL seasons with the New Jersey Devils, Merrill isn't necessarily trying to establish his place in an NHL lineup. He's more trying to show that he can be the sort of impact player New Jersey expected him to be when it selected him in the second round (38th overall) in the 2010 NHL Draft and quickly became the Devils top defensive prospect.

Merrill rose from his lofty draft status through the University of Michigan, leaving school following his junior year to turn pro.

Except in New Jersey, with a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2011-12, Merrill was often thrown in a bit over his head. That rather than playing softer minutes until he worked his way up to higher responsibility, the necessity of his team's needs often thrust him into more difficult spots.

Video: Head coach Gerard Gallant previews Tuesday's game

 

Playing with that burden, Merrill's status declined, leading him to be selected by the Golden Knights in the Expansion Draft.

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Still only 25, Vegas sees Merrill as still having a good chance of becoming the player New Jersey once expected him to be. Except Merrill said on Tuesday that his M.O. isn't trying to be that player all in one night.

That for him, it's about keeping things simple as he works his way back into the lineup. And if he can continue to do that, he'll be well on his way to becoming what he's always been projected to be.

"I've been keeping my mind ready to go," Merrill said. "Knowing I can can be a good player and keeping my confidence as much as I can.

"Early on, I have to keep things simple and stick to what you know. You get more comfortable as the game goes. If there are plays you can make, make them. But don't be forcing it. You can't be pushing for offense or trying to do too much.

"Just keep things simple, and do what I can."

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