23rd among North American Skaters
The first thing critics will say when scouting Nick Merkley is that he doesn’t have ideal size. At just under 5’11’ and weighing 191 pounds, the Kelowna Rockets right winger isn’t considered a physically imposing prospect, but his playmaking abilities have him firmly in the discussion as a mid-to-late first round pick.
“He’s smart, highly competitive, with great vision,” a scout told The Hockey News. “He has game-breaking qualities.”
Merkley is NHL Central Scouting’s 23rd-ranked North American skater following the best season of his WHL career to date. Merkley recorded 90 points (20-70-90) in 72 games with the high-powered Rockets. Those numbers were good for sixth in league scoring.
The winger finished one point behind Oilers prospect, and Kelowna teammate, Leon Draisaitl in WHL playoff scoring. Merkley had 27 points (5-22-27) in 19 games as the Rockets took home the WHL Championship.
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Although he is considered more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, Merkley was able to score three goals and add two assists in five games during the 2015 Memorial Cup tournament. The Rockets fell 2-1 in the final against Oshawa.
There were reportedly close to 100 NHL scouts in Quebec City for the Memorial Cup last week and a lot of eyes were on Merkley. With the pressure to produce, Merkley impressed.
Two days after turning 18, Merkley scored two goals in a 7-3 Kelowna beat-down of Rimouski at the Memorial Cup. Both tallies showed his ability to make plays in tight spaces, as he went skate-to-stick while advancing on net.
An interesting note about Merkley is that he spends his summers training alongside Oilers winger Jordan Eberle, as well as Mike Green of Washington.
“It’s pretty cool seeing them in the gym every day,” Merkley told NHL.com. “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 in the gym and on the ice.”
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
- Curtis Joe of Elite Prospects: “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.”
- Central Scouting’s John Williams: “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 (at the Memorial Cup) will do nothing but help.”
- A scout, per Yahoo Sports: “I can’t see him falling past the 25th pick. Yeah, his stats are a bit inflated because of the team he was on and his skating needs a bit of work, but with his offensive skill and the energy he brings on the ice, I think he would be a good pick between 18-25. He showed in the playoffs that he’s the type of player that steps up when it counts and every team needs those players.”