The Calgary Flames head into the NHL Draft on June 26th in Sunrise, Florida with an excellent chance to stock their cupboards full of promising NHL prospects. Calgary holds the 15th pick in the first round of the draft but will be quite busy on Day 2.
Thanks to a pair of deals that sent Sven Baertschi to the Vancouver Canucks and Curtis Glencross to the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline, the Flames have three picks in the second round and a pair of selections in the third round.
The most intriguing pick, of course is the first round choice. The Flames have a nice trio of young forwards leading the charge into the future in Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett and also have former first round picks Morgan Klimchuk and Emile Poirier who could join them on the forward lines in the next few seasons.
Oil On Whyte
Due to their abundance of young forwards, it would make sense to grab a defenseman with the 15th overall pick, but it is always the best policy to not get cute in the opening round of the draft and take the best player available. The way things are shaping up, it might be a hometown boy hearing his name called by the Calgary Flames in the first round this year.
Nick Merkley is a small, but super skilled right winger from Calgary who played the past two seasons with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. In fact, if it weren’t for his 5’10” 187 pound frame, his stats would surely see him selected in the top ten picks of the NHL Draft. However, NHL teams are still obsessed with size, and would rather a much larger player, even if his skill doesn’t match Merkley’s, which could see the super setup man slip to the Flames at 15.
Jun 27, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving announces Samuel Bennett (not pictured) as the number four overall pick to the Calgary Flames in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Seeing how successful Johnny Gaudreau was in his rookie year, scoring 24 goals, 40 assists and 64 points even though he is only listed at 5’9″ and 150 pounds, I can’t imagine the Flames will be scared off by a kid who is just under 190 pounds. Especially when you look at his stats.
Merkley was on a stacked Rockets team that went all the way to overtime in the Memorial Cup final game before bowing out to the Oshawa Generals. Merkley led the team in scoring with 20 goals, 70 assists and 90 points in the regular season. He was joined midway through the season by Edmonton Oilers 3rd overall pick in last year’s draft, Leon Draisaitl and the pair lit up the WHL playoffs on their way to an Ed Chynoweth Cup.
The Rockets only lost three games in their run to a WHL championship, with Merkley scoring five goals and adding an incredible 22 assists for 27 points in 19 games. He trailed only Draisaitl and Nic Petan of the Portland Winterhawks in playoff scoring, and both of those players had just one more point. Merkley also chipped in five points in five games at the Memorial Cup.
The native of Calgary’s incredible draft season was no fluke either. He played well enough with the Calgary Bisons Bantam team in 2011-12 to be drafted 9th overall in the WHL Draft by the Rockets. In 2013-14, his rookie season with Kelowna, Merkley scored 25 goals and 33 assists for 58 points in 66 games, ranking him third among all WHL rookies. He also stepped up in his first postseason by scoring four goals and 13 assists for 17 points in just 14 games.
Merkley’s stats clearly show he is an incredibly skilled right winger who can score goals but is a much better playmaker than scorer. He wouldn’t make the jump to the NHL right away, but definitely has the skills to join Gaudreau and Monahan on the top line in the near future. Add in the fact Calgary already has Bennett, Klimchuk and Poirier gearing up for their first full pro seasons next year and the Flames could have one of the best top six groups in the league in a few years.
There is no guarantee Merkley will be available when the Calgary Flames head to the podium to announce the 15th selection at the NHL Draft. Bob McKenzie of TSN has an incredible record of predicting the first round of the draft every year and has Merkley ranked 17th. International Scouting Services has him pegged at 19th and The Hockey News rank him right at 15th.
If he is available at 15, it might make the most sense for the Flames to bring a Calgary boy back home to start his NHL career.
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