The 2015 NHL Entry Draft is 17 days away and the Wild are looking to find that next NHL star to raise their franchise to the next level. Hockey Wilderness is counting down the days with a daily mock draft. We are at pick number 17 today.
Hockey’s Future ranked the Jets prospect pool 11th last fall. That they have size at every position and also some depth at every position is one of the reasons for they are ranked in the top half of the NHL. At no position is this more evident than at center. Between Nic Petan, Andrew Copp, and Chase De Leo, they have several players who have a good chance to make the NHL, and none of them were taken in the first round.
On defense, they've got several good prospects as well: Josh Morrissey, Jan Kostalek, and Ben Chariot (who played games with the Jets last year) are the most notable. They aren't as deep on the wings as they are for other positions, but they still have one good prospect for each side. They have last year’s first round pick Nikolaj Ehlers for the left side, and on the right side, they have Joel Armia who was acquired from Buffalo as part of the Evander Kane trade. In goal, they also have a few prospects with Connor Hellebuyck, Eric Comrie and Jaime Phillips.
Basically, the Jets have one of the deepest prospect pools in the Central division. Recently, they have also done well drafting in the middle rounds, leaving them with very few desperate needs to fill out their prospect pool. Thanks to several years of solid drafting, they can pick whoever is on the top of their draft board, rather than drafting for position.
Scouting Nick Merkley
Oftentimes, a big concern about a top NHL prospect is how well they will adjust to the physicality of pro hockey. The team who drafts Merkley will not need to worry about that because he plays a very physical game, one where he’s not afraid to hit and be hit, often engaging with players who are bigger than he is. But even though he is shorter than average, his stocky build makes him more durable than an average 5’11" junior player.
He played all 72 regular season games this year and has only missed six games during his two year WHL career. While he’s a grind it out type of player, he is not known for his defensive prowess. Instead, he uses his physicality to take and maintain puck possession in the offensive zone, and uses his elite vision and hockey sense to get the puck to teammates who are in the position to shoot. Even though he's a gritty player, he is key to Kelowna's power play, setting up goals for his teammates all over the ice.
Leading the Rockets in scoring during the regular season, he tallied 20 goals and 70 assists, which was good for sixth overall in WHL scoring. He makes his teammates better by being tough to play against while setting them up for easy goals. He also uses his physicality in front of the net to be a pest and to score from the net front, or more often, to distract the goalie and defense while he passes to a wide open teammate.
Future Considerations scout Cody Nickolet ranks Merkley as the 3rd best 2015 draft eligible player in the WHL on his blog Dub from Above.
"Nick Merkley is a hard-driving playmaker for the Kelowna Rockets…possesses a strong lower-body with sharp edges that allow him to really drive and power his way around the ice [...] has a definite playmaking lean to his game and has the ability to execute tough passes while making them look easy…despite his driving offensive style and tempo, he doesn't rush decisions with the puck and is fine to keep the biscuit to wait for a lane to open [...] He’s one of the better pure offensive player’s in the draft, has the grit and oomph to go with it while also possessing very few overall weaknesses."
"Despite the size, Merkley isn’t afraid to go to the net, and to battle in the dirty areas of the ice. With his excellent balance, and good lower body strength, he is hard to knock off the puck. He’s got excellent offensive skills including superb vision and passing ability; a hard shot and good release; and high-end hockey IQ. Merkley is tenacious in the backcheck and uses his hockey IQ to anticipate plays and create turnovers. He has very good speed and gets the transition game going when he does steal pucks or intercept passes. He could stand to shoot the puck more though, as he has an accurate shot that he just doesn't use enough. He could stand to add some strength and power though."