Rarely do you see former MVPs traded while they’re still in the 20s and in the unlikely circumstance it occurs, never is the team getting rid of the MVP better off? In December of 2019, the New Jersey Devils sent 2018 Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Nick Merkely, Nate Schnarr, Kevin Bahl, a 2020 1st-round pick, and a 2021 3rd-round pick.
At the time, the hockey world’s initial reaction wasn’t the warmest regarding the Devils’ return.
“Is it a great return, or even a good return? No, it is not,” said Adam Gretz of NBC Sports. “It is a quantity over quality deal as none of the prospects involved project as top-line players, while they also forfeit the small chance the 2020 pick could be a top-three pick.”
It felt like the Devils gave away their MVP for a bunch of nothing. Merkley was a former late 1st round pick who had shown some flashes but had a lengthy history of injuries. Schnarr was a 3rd rounder who was coming off a great year, but it was in the OHL, a league notorious for tons of guys scoring ridiculous amounts of points. Bahl, a former 2nd rounder, seemed to be the big piece in the deal, but the only thing fans knew about him was his size.
The only positives seemed to be the picks, and one of those picks ended up being much worse because of John Hynes inability to win a playoff series. However, in the end, it worked out just fine.
2020 1st-Round Pick
If you don’t know by now, the 1st round pick turned into the 18th overall selection, and the Devils were able to nab a guy who was ranked 13th on Bob McKenzie of TSN’s big board. A center from Newfoundland named Dawson Mercer.
Mercer made this season’s opening night roster as a 19-year-old because his game was considered NHL ready. Devils beat writer and prospect analyst for NHL.com Mike Morreale was high on Mercer before he was drafted.
“Mercer can bring a lot of offense but is also reliable in his own zone… Mercer (6-0, 180) is a smart, heads-up skater who finishes checks and is strong on the power play and penalty kill.”
While Mercer hasn’t gotten too many reps on special teams, he has excelled at 5v5 when paired with the right linemates. When Mercer was with Jesper Bratt and Andreas Johnsson earlier this season, that line produced most of the Devils’ goals. Mercer produced 11 points, three goals, and eight assists through nine games with the two Swedes.
His name was being thrown around in the Calder Trophy conversation. However, soon after, coach Ruff changed the lines, and like the rest of the team, Mercer sank. Mercer’s play in the months of December and January was rough, accounting for just nine points in 24 games.
As of late, Ruff moved Mercer to the wing to play alongside Jack Hughes and Yegor Sharangovich, and boy has it clicked. Since the switch going into the game against Tampa Bay, the trio has amassed 24 points in just five games, seven of which belong to Mercer.
Mercer may be a center by trade but giving one of your best all-around players 3rd line minutes isn’t a good game plan. He’s currently on pace for 48 points, but that projected total will be smashed if he stays alongside Hughes.
Whether it’s his hard-nosed style game, high offensive IQ, or tenacity on defense, he can do anything. But what makes Mercer great is his relentlessness and ability to play the pest role. He can fight along the boards, retrieve pucks, and get under players’ skin, all while adding in elite hockey sense. The Devils’ front office hit a mammoth home run by selecting Dawson Mercer.
2021 3rd-Round Pick
At the time of the trade, the 3rd-round pick was by far the most overlooked part of the deal. It’s not a person, so there are no stats to look up, nor is it a 1st-round pick, so it’s unlikely to draft a star player, let alone a capable NHLer. Instead, the Devils 3rd-round pick proved to be the most valuable asset from the Taylor Hall trade as it was used to acquire defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler from the Washington Capitals.
General Manager Tom Fitzgerald decided to take a shot on him, and not a soul in the world could have predicted for it to go this well, considering all the trades for project players the Devils have made over the last few seasons.
Siegenthaler is now playing on the first pair, alongside Dougie Hamilton, and it’s a matchup made in Heaven. The two complement each other perfectly. Dougie is as offensive as they came, always looking to activate in a play. While Siegenthaler is a stay at home guy who can lock d-zones down as well as any defenseman in the league.
He may not light up the stat sheet having just 13 points in 54 games, but that’s not his game. For too long the Devils have lacked a true defensive defenseman, and now they found an elite one to pair with one of the best defensemen in the game.
It doesn’t matter which analytical guy you prefer, JFresh, Evolving Hockey, The Athletic, you name it. They all say the same, Siegenthaler is an elite defensive defenseman. And if you don’t even like analytics, the eye test is more than convincing. He may not be a flashy puck mover, but if you need a player or line to be shut down, he can handle that task.
The Devils now have their first pair of the future, thanks to the 3rd round pick they acquired in the Taylor Hall deal.
Now a member of the San Jose Sharks, Merkley was traded this past offseason in a one-for-one swap for defenseman Christian Jaros. When you hear a one-for-one trade, you think of Hall for Larsson. Unfortunately, the Devils couldn’t replicate another lopsided trade as Jaros has served them as a depth defenseman who plays when one of their top six d-men are hurt.
As for Merkley, he played 31 games in a Devils uniform and registered 12 points, three goals, nine assists, and one very swollen black eye. I always enjoyed Merkley’s game, he worked hard, and he liked scoring goals on February 16th. Unfortunately, his time in New Jersey was short-lived as it never worked out.
Nate Schnarr was the mystery man in the trade, a former 3rd rounder who had a good year in his final OHL season. In the draft, he was projected to go anywhere from the second to the third round. FC Hockey has good things to say about Schnarr.
“He is a talented offensive player and a bit of a late bloomer who has good upwards potential and could prove to be a steal.”
Now, Schnarr ranks 6th for total points on the Utica Comets. In 37 games, Schnarr has 25 points, 13 goals, and 12 assists. Still just 23 years old, Schnarr is on pace for 42 points and can continue to develop his game on the best team in the AHL. Currently, the Devils are pretty loaded at the center position, but down the line, if McLeod doesn’t stick or Mercer moves to the wing, Schnarr could have a spot on the big club.