NHL Draft: Merkley slated for first-round selection

Kelowna Rockets’ forward Nick Merkley will be a first-round pick in this Friday’s NHL entry draft.

Kelowna Rockets’ forward Nick Merkley will be a first-round pick in this Friday’s NHL entry draft, the only question remaining is how high the Calgary native will go.

The five-foot-10, 191-pound Merkley, whose parents are from Rossland, and his grandparents still live in Greater Trail, is ranked 23rd overall based on NHL Central Scouting’s final season rankings.

Merkley led his Kelowna Rockets to the WHL title, before losing 2-1 to the Oshawa Generals in overtime in the final of the Memorial Cup in Quebec City. It was his 100th appearance of the 2014-15 campaign, and following the devastating loss, an exhausted Merkley rushed from Quebec City to Buffalo for the annual pre-draft combine.

In one day, he soldiered through 13 interviews — a relentless stretch of eight hours, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“Because I got there late, the (sit-downs) were all kind of squished together,” Merkley told the Calgary Herald. “And there’s 10 or 20 minutes between each one, so you can’t really rest or anything. It was pretty tiring for me. So I was just repeating myself in the interviews.

“The first couple, you kind of starstruck, kind of nervous … but you get used to it.

“I think it went pretty well.”

Then it came time to heave his weary body, battered by playoff demands, into the dreaded fitness testing. Not surprisingly, he didn’t exactly thrive.

“Obviously, I don’t think I performed that well,” the 189-pounder says. “I hadn’t done a full work-out for a couple of months.”

But, says Merkley, simply showing up was meaningful. Because it would have been easy to bail out.

“I think it shows a bit of character that I even did it.”

NHL clubs aren’t oblivious to Merkley’s workload, which began with pre-season toil in late August. The hectic playoff pace, coupled with his desire to finish up high school, kept the lad hopping.

Still, he produced.

“Pretty chaotic,” says Merkley. “We went all the way — as far as you can. That was pretty exciting. That experience at the Memorial Cup, I don’t think that happens very often. That was pretty cool. It was only my second year in the league, so I was pretty fortunate that way.

“Obviously, you’re pretty tired, but when you see the crowds and see how big the game is, you get that extra push, that adrenaline.”

Merkley led the Rockets with 90 points this season and according to Central Scouting’s Western Hockey League scout John Williams, his performance at the Memorial Cup will only enhance his stock.

“Nick, he’s a highly-rated player for us, I saw him play a lot and he’s very consistent,” Williams told the Kelowna Capital News. “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 at the Memorial Cup will do nothing but help.”

NHL Central Scouting’s staff releases its rankings of top prospects twice each season—midterm and final—encompassing players in both North American and Europe.

Williams said the lists are compiled from the subjective opinion of scouts and serve as a guideline and helpful tool for NHL teams to use when making their own decisions about players.

“Throughout the course of the year we have scouts going to games, filing reports, and we meet throughout the season to rank the players in order,” Williams said. “Obviously there are going to be changes along the way, because our last list comes out at the end of the regular season. It’s really a couple of snapshots of the season.

“There are always guys who step up in the playoffs and shine and get noticed, and vice-versa.”

Central Scouting lists 210 North American skaters in its rankings and another 140 from Europe.

So with just 210 picks to be made overall the entire draft, it’s clear dozens of players will be disappointed with the outcome.

But as John Williams points out, being passed over on June 27 won’t necessarily mean the end of the pro dream for those players.

“The draft is just one step, guys realize it’s just another day,” Williams said. “You gotta keep working and getting better. Sometimes guys get drafted and don’t turn out, and sometimes guys that don’t like Tyler Johnson (Tampa Bay) become stars in the NHL.

“There are always guys who slip through the cracks and that’s the reality of the game.”

The Edmonton Oilers have the first overall pick in the annual draft and will likely make Erie Otters forward Connor McDavid the number one pick, while Buffalo, the number 2 pick, is almost guaranteed to choose U.S. born player Jack Eichel from Boston University.

The NHL Draft goes Friday starting at 5 p.m. Pacific Time in Sunrise, Florida, and resumes Saturday at 10 a.m.

BCHL Notes: Five BCHL players are on the Central Scouting list including: Marcus Vela, Langley Rivermen at 131, Carmine Buono, Powell River Kings, 188, Thomas Aldworth, Vernon Vipers, 195, Liam Finlay, Vernon Vipers, 199, and Vincent Desharnais, Chilliwack Chiefs, 209.

With files from the Kelowna Capital News and Calgary Herald.