Flames First Round Targets 2015 – Nick Merkley


Every so often a Calgary born kid pokes his head above the crowd and becomes a noteworthy NHL prospect. The Flames franchise, however, have made a habit of not drafting local guys, be it players who were born and raised here, or guys who spent their formative junior seasons here. The one exception I can recall over the years is Brent Krahn of the Calgary Hitmen, whom the Flames took 9th overall in 2000 (aside – don’t take goalies in the first round!). 

Nick Merkley might be the player to break that habit. The 5’11”, 190 pound centre/right winger was the highest scoring draft eligible player in the WHL this season and has long been considered one of the best young players on the Calgary scene. 

Merkley’s consensus ranking is a mid-first round pick, so there’s a fair chance Merkely will be around when the Flames take the podium. He’s also the guy FN readers most expect the Flames to take in the first round according to our official poll (which you can see to the right of this article).

Scouting Reports

ScoutingReport

Merkley’s scouting reports are glowing when it comes to his competitiveness, hockey IQ and puck distribution skills. Future Considerations has this to say about him:

An offensive forward that makes an impact in the game every time he touches the puck…improved skater this season and possess more jump in his step…not big by any stretch but shows a willingness to throw his weight around…impressive hockey sense and ability to think the game…very creative and crafty with the puck…plays a complete 200-foot game.

Craig Button notes that Merkley is a playmaker, but also highly competitive:

Nick has a motor that never stops. He simply doesn’t take kindly to resistance and is always pushing through obstacles. He’s smart and knows how to take full advantage of his skills and combined with his determination, he’s an undeniable force.

I am fortunate enough to have a friend who worked with the AAA Calgary Buffaloes when Nick went through the system. He had high praise for the player (paraphrased):

– Nick was utterly dominant as a teenager at the AAA level and often times seemed to toy with his opponents. To the degree that he would be double shifted many nights if the team was behind or needed a win. 

– Nick loves hockey. Even at a young age he ate, slept and breathed the game. He was always one of the most passionate players and most eager to practice and improve.

– Although he doesn’t have a big frame, Nick is very strong and thick because he’s a committed gym rat. He’s never going to be tall, but he’s tough, competitive and not easy to push off the puck. 

So why isn’t Merkley a consensus top-10 pick? Some reports note that while his skating is good, he’s not quite as fast or dynamic as you would expect from a guy below 6′. He also doesn’t have the greatest shot, which is why his stat line tends to favour assists over goals. 

Finally, Merkley began the season like a house on fire, scoring 46 points in 28 games through the first three months of the season (1.64 PPG). After that, he settled into a relatively pedestrian point-per-game pace through the rest of the regular season, a downturn which is likely still fresh in scout’s minds. 

The Numbers

NumbersFN

Merkley boasts some of the better stats out of the WHL this year. As mentioned, his 90-points (20 goals, 70 assists) were the most of any draft eligible forward from the dub this season. His PPG pace of 1.19 was second only to Matt Barzal (a likely top-10 pick) as was his NHLe (27) and he led the Kelowna Rockets in scoring, despite being one of the youngest guys on the squad. In fact, Nick is a May, 1997 birthday and therefore on the younger side of things overall this draft year, which speaks well to his dominance at the junior level already. 

The one area Merkley wasn’t quite as elite in was percentage of team scoring, which tends to show which players are driving the bus offensively for their clubs. Matthew Barzal, for instance came in at an incredible 43% this season, whereas Merkley was 4th in the WHL at about 30%. 

It’s important to note here, however, that Merkely’s Rockets were pretty deep so he probably didn’t play as much as guys like Barzal. According to CHL Stats ice time estimations, Nick played the least of the players ranked in top-4 by the team scoring% metric. For example, it’s estimated Barzal skated for over 47% of his team’s ES ice time when he was in the line-up. Nick was down around 35%. 

The other minor area of concern is Merkley’s ES and PP points split. Last year he managed just 46 of his 90 points at even strength, giving him a near 50-50 ratio between the two game states. Typically it’s better to see more scoring at ES than the man advantage, but it’s not the end of the world.

Conclusion

Nick Merkely has a lot of the qualities the Flames will be looking for in a first round pick. He’s a natural right shot who can play either centre or the wing. He’s smart, crafty and a great puck distributor, not to mention determined and competitive. His numbers this year are very good though just this side of truly elite. Merkely is definitely the kind of person and talent who could take a big step forward in his draft+1 season, however. 

Though the Flames may be tempted to look for size given their collection of smaller guys up front already, Merkley’s stature probably shouldn’t be a knock against him given his core strength and commitment to fitness. In some ways he kind of sounds like Sam Bennett in his willingness to engage (though Bennett is definitely the more explosive skater). 

It will be interesting to see if Merkley lasts until 15th overall. If he does, I expect him to be solidly on the club’s radar. 

Flames First Round Targets 2015

  • Byron Bader

    I like Merkley. He doesn’t hit the typical NHLe threshold of 30 that I like to see (he’s very close) but like Kent said the Rockets were a deep team and Merkley may not have been used as much as he would have been on a lesser team.

    Looking at his stats he actually has one of the highest P/60 in the entire WHL but is estimated to play about 8 minutes less a game than Barzal. That’s intriguing.

    I’d put money on him having a massive D+1 year, offensively, next year back in Junior.

  • RexLibris

    I have Merkley going to the Flames at #15 in a mock draft.

    He seems to fit a lot of their needs organizationally and he is a very good prospect to get at #15.

    Whatever the draft board looks like, the Flames are going to have some very good players fall to them at that spot and will have some good options available.

    • SmellOfVictory

      It seems that every mock draft in the past month has him going to the Flames. Thus I assume he will not.

      To be honest, I think there is a decent chance that a better prospect is available at the Flames’ pick. All it takes is one guy to drop a couple of spots.

  • BurningSensation

    Along with Colborne and Klimchuk, he’d be a ‘hometown’ kid, nice!

    I love the idea of Merkley being our choice, he has high-end skills, a gritty attitude, and he would add significant depth to our RW.

    That all said, I (slightly) prefer Svechnikov, who is both bigger, and a better at EVS.

    • everton fc

      I still think we need to pick a defencemen. And I, too, like the Russian. But Merley is an interesting prospect at #15.

      (You forgot Mason Raymond, sort of a hometown kid!)

      • BurningSensation

        If you draft for ‘need’, you are doing it wrong.

        The Oilers need defensemen in the worst possible way, and they have used high picks on C’s over the last few drafts.

        Despite all that, they should, and will, draft Connor McDavid.

        By the same token, Calgary is loaded at C, and has needs at RW and on D. If the best player available is Mathew Barzal (it won’t happen, but I can dream), we shouldn’t pick Jeremy Roy just because he is a blueliner.

        • Bob's Hockey Stick

          Totally agree, but if the two players are close in talent then I think you default to D. Not just because of organizational need, but because D are simply more valuable than wingers are.

    • Bob's Hockey Stick

      I’m in agreement with Svechnikov, he’d be a risky ( russian factor) but intriguing pick. I suspect tho he goes before 15. I could see Boston sniping him. but Merkley isn’t a bad consolation prize either.

  • Parallex

    “He also doesn’t have the greatest shot, which is why his stat line tends to favour assists over goals.”

    Okey, so what’s the deal with Merkley’s shot… Release? Speed/Hardness? Accuracy?

    I mean he sounds a lot like Alex Tanguay (which is a good thing) but Tanguay potted 47 in his draft year. I generally expect guys to have more Apples then Goals but 20/70 is an awfully large difference.

  • JamesBond

    Have you forgotten that hometown hero Mike Vernon was drafted by the Flames in 1981? And he was called up in 1986 and won their first game after that horrendous 11 game losing streak.

  • Bob's Hockey Stick

    Here is my take at 15:
    F : YEVGENI SVECHNIKOV(LW 6-2 200 L), Nick Merkley (C 5’10” 190 R), Timo Meier (RW/C,6’1 210 L) or
    D: Thomas Chabot (D 6’2” 180 L), Jérémy Roy (D 6’ 187 R), Nicolas Meloche (D 6’3” 205 R), Brandon Carlo (D 6’5” 195 R)

    If one of the top 10 drops to 15 you take them but I see the list above as guys I see in this bubble. I would be happy with any of them but have Svechnikov ever so slightly ahead of Merkley.I could see Svechnikov playing the lW with Bennett and Poirier for years to come and being very productive. I could also see Merkley playing with either Monahan or Bennett as well.

    The more I read these four defenders the more I want us to get a 2nd first rounder or and early 2nd rounder. 3 of the 4 are righties and boy we need a few of these. Personally I really like Meloche, good size, good head, good feet and I could see him a Brodies partner for years yo come.

    • Bob's Hockey Stick

      If we managed to draft Svecnikov with our first and Meloche with our second i.d be real happy.

      IMO there will be a lot of trades between 30 and 40 with teams competing for that second class of defenseman. There will be a few gems in there.