The Memorial Cup is typically a tournament dominated by older junior players. The 2015 edition served as a bright stage for a draft eligible player though as Nick Merkley was a force for the Kelowna Rockets.
The 18-year-old Merkley has strung together consecutive solid seasons for the Rockets. In his rookie campaign he posted 25 goals and 58 points over the course of 2013-14. This past season he was a top forward in the Western League, recording 20 goals and 90 points in 72 games. He followed up his strong regular season with five goals and 27 points in 19 playoff games and led the WHL in playoff assists. He earned a spot on the WHL Second All-Star team for his productive season. Merkley was named a tournament all-star at the Memorial Cup. He put up three goals and five points in five games for Kelowna who lost the final in overtime.
Canada has called on Merkley to represent them multiple times in the past. In 2013 he was an alternate captain for Team Pacific at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge and recorded two goals and five points in seven games. He was also an alternate captain for Canada at the 2014 Hlinka Memorial where he recorded four assists and won a gold medal.
While Merkley's game doesn't show off flashy high level skill, he makes up for what doesn't dazzle with excellent hockey IQ. He thinks the game on a high level and finds ways to maximize his skills based on what is unfolding before him. He also possesses a great work rate in all three zones which allows him to force turnovers and generate chances on the offensive side of the puck. His overall ability coupled with his smarts and competitive edge make him an effective player in all situations.
Moving forward, Merkley will need to fine tune aspects of his game. Getting stronger will be a focal point given his 5-foot-10 stature. Other aspects of his game like his puck handling, speed and shooting will also need to be refined to get them to an NHL calibre level. With all that in mind, there's nothing he hasn't shown an inability to grasp.
Expect Merkley to be taken in the mid-to-late first round.