There are some interesting names on the New Jersey Devils unprotected list. Rob DeLuca profiled them here. Will Butcher is a still young former Hobey Baker Award-winning defenseman. P.K. Subban is a defenseman who still has a rocket for a shot and has the offensive instincts to contribute to a good team. Andreas Johnsson is a primed bounce-back candidate. Nathan Bastian is a big bottom-six forward who could be a part of a team’s solution. These are all intriguing options, and Rob did a good job profiling them. I don’t think any of them are the pick.
The Seattle Kraken are going to take Nick Merkley on Wednesday night. It sounds wild with the amount of talent that’s available, but Merkley is a young player who hasn’t seen his ceiling yet. He needs an opportunity, and the Kraken would give him that. He’s already shown a game-changing ability to impact the Devils lineup. Imagine if he could do that for a brand new team with no chemistry yet?
When looking at his advanced stats, some of the offense was equal to that of Nico Hischier. Merkley played 287 minutes at 5v5 last year while Hischier played 281 minutes. Merkley and Hischier were both on the ice for five high-danger goals. Their xGF was percentage points away from each other (9.64 to 10.01). Merkley was on the ice for 247 total chances while Hischier was on the ice for 241. The offensive numbers are close. All stats came from Natural Stat Trick.
The defensive numbers are not close, but the Kraken will have plenty of bottom-six forwards to choose from with great defensive upside. Merkley brings an interesting skill set to the table for Seattle. He is still just 24 years old, he’s a former 1st-round pick who has shown something in his short time in the NHL, and in five AHL games last season, he made it clear that he was too good for that league.
Merkley is under the radar right now because he’s not a big name, but the Kraken have to take some chances on some young players. Remember, they can only hold 23 NHL players at a time, but they have to take 30 total NHL players. They will take some chances on young players who can spend some time in the AHL. Merkley is still there, and that will be appealing to the Kraken during this process. While players like Butcher and Johnsson would be better for the team now, Merkley makes more sense for roster construction.
This is similar to the Jon Merrill decision that Vegas made back in 2017. That season, the Devils chose to protect eight skaters over seven forwards and three defensemen. They did that to protect John Moore, which seemed like a head-scratching decision at the time. This left players like Beau Bennett, Stefan Noesen, Ben Lovejoy, and Michael Cammalleri exposed to the Golden Knights.
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Devils fans didn’t expect Merrill to get picked, but when looking at the other options on the board, it was absolutely the right choice. Outside of Noesen, all the other players failed to really show anything after the 2016-17 season. The Kraken studied how Vegas assembled their roster, and they will make similar decisions. Merkley is a much better choice than some of the other options on the Devils for making the Kraken better in the future over right now.