Nick Merkley was drafted 30th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by the Arizona Coyotes.
It was a nerve-racking experience for the young prospect. Through 29 picks, through three and a half hours of name-calling, Nick Merkley sat there waiting for his name to be called.
When he finally was called that classic Tom Cruise-like smile lit up the room.
“Yeah, you kind of dream of it your whole life,” said the 18-year-old, sitting at one of the podiums in the bustling interview area. “I’m excited to start up in Arizona.
“To go in the first round? Pretty surreal for me.”
Merkley played well with the AHL Tucson Roadrunners
With 12 goals, 12 assists in 20 AHL games, Merkley's promotion was well deserved. He was playing on a line with Dylan Strome and Lawson Crouse. The line had some great chemistry, and Merkley is hoping that carries over to playing with Strome in the NHL now.
His tenure here in Arizona will be decided by his level of play. Right now the Coyotes are a struggling team and could use some spark... any kind of spark to get them out of their losing ways.
Merkley could be just that player who ignites a team when they need it the most.
The 20-year-old right wing comes with some fairly attractive attributes to allow him to be a gifted NHL player.
Eliteprospects.com had this to say about Merkley:
A playmaking center that has an excellent eye for the game; 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. There is something left to be desired having observed his individual skills, such as puckhandling, footspeed, and decision-making, for a prolonged period of time; there is definitely room for improvement in the small areas of his game. All-in-all, Merkley brings a medley of skill, smarts, and work ethic to the table, making him an invaluable asset as a Center. (Curtis Joe, EP 2014)
The road to the NHL hasn't been easy
In February 2016 while playing with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, Merkley tore his ACL in an attempt to finish a check. The injury not only ended his season with the Rockets, but it caused Merkley to miss the Coyotes' training camp that summer.
He worked hard to recover from his injury and now has fulfilled his dream of playing his first NHL game.
But... he didn't get that opportunity last night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, as head coach Rick Tocchet wants him to practice with the team first. His debut may occur on Tuesday night when the Florida Panthers invade Gila River Arena.
Instead, Nick Cousins got the nod, and he actually came through with his fourth goal of the year to cut the Penguins lead in half, 2-1.
It may have been tough for Merkley to watch from the press box, but he will get his chance to shine.
He's one tough competitor
He does have a toughness about his game which the Coyotes could really use. The 20-year-old Merkley has collected 12g-12a with 12 penalty minutes (PIM) in 20 games with Tucson and is second on the team in scoring.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound first-year winger ranks third in points and is second in goals among all AHL rookies. Merkley has collected at least one point in 14 of 20 games with the Roadrunners.
Last night, Max Domi stuck up for his linemate Clayton Keller who was slammed into the board from behind by the Pens' Chad Ruhwedel. More of that spirit is needed to avoid the Coyotes from being pushed around by the teams who attempt to get away with that behavior.
Merkley could provide that toughness. He won't be pushed around. He recorded 242 PIM in 245 games with the Kelowna Rockets. He is an excellent playmaker as evidenced by this 174 assists in 245 WHL games.
Will Merkley line up with Strome?
Head coach Rick Tocchet has changed lines endlessly attempting to find a combination which gets his team going offensively. If Merkley gets into the Florida game Tuesday night he may line up with his off-ice buddy Dylan Strome to renew their chemistry they exhibited in Tucson.
With Strome down the middle and Merkley on the right wing, adding a Brendan Perlini on the left side would provide for a fast, skilled line. We will need to wait and see what Tocchet decides to do.
Merkley wants to impress
To stay in the NHL you need to perform.
Just ask Dylan Strome.
After being selected as the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, Strome was sent back down to the juniors and then failed in his second NHL debut. That landed him in the AHL with Tucson to only be recalled again.
Merkley knows he needs to impress, the only issue may be he will try too hard to do so. If he relaxes and allows his skills to take over, he'll be fine.
He is just another jewel in the chest of goodies that the Coyotes have in their prospect pool.
Now we get to see if he can swim, or sink.
It's really up to him.
What is your opinion of Nick Merkley's NHL debut? Will he play well enough to stick around for a while? Let us know in the comments section below.