If you were to take a quick look at recent NHL Drafts, you might think of 2011 as a bit of a lost year for the Los Angeles Kings. The 2009 NHL Draft brought the Kings Kyle Clifford, Jordan Nolan, and Brayden Schenn (traded, of course, for Mike Richards). The 2010 NHL Draft gave us Derek Forbort in the first round and Tyler Toffoli in the second round. Heck, even 2012 draftee Tanner Pearson has seen the NHL already.
Meanwhile, 2011's highest pick was second-rounder Christopher Gibson, who was let go for nothing and picked up by the Maple Leafs. Ouch. However, the depth picks of 2011 have a chance to redeem the Kings' draft class. We've already seen Jordan Weal in this countdown; now, we look at winger Michael Mersch.
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Selected with the 110th pick in the draft, Mersch was coming off of three years in the US Development program and a decent freshman season at the University of Wisconsin. Mersch was ranked 83rd among North American skaters, so he wasn't totally under the radar. Mersch followed up with a productive sophomore season in which he notched 14 goals (seven of them on the power play), but the Badgers struggled to their worst record in a decade and missed thefor the second straight year.
So, observers were probably looking for improvement out of both Mersch and the Badgers. They delivered.
Mersch not only led the team in goals in 2013; he finished fourth in the entire country. His Jeff Carteresque stat line (23-13-36) earned him the team MVP award, a nomination as UW athlete of the year, and a berth on the 77-player Hobey Baker ballot. (Yeah, it's not that exclusive, but still, not bad.) It's worth noting that, according to Wisconsin, the last seven team MVPs went on to reach the NHL. As for the team, after a 1-7-2 start, the Badgers recovered to finish fourth in the conference and claimed their first WCHA Tournament title in 15 years. Wisconsin bowed out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but it was a remarkable turnaround, led heavily by Mersch and noted on their championship rings. (Mersch talks about it at 0:45 of the following video.)
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After Wisconsin was knocked out of the playoffs, Mersch elected to stay in school for his senior year and get his degree. He's going to be a go-to guy, of course, so it'll be worth monitoring his progress; it's not going to be easy to improve on 23 goals, but Mersch has room to develop his two-way game and his passing. Mersch projects pretty well as an NHL player; he has the size (6'2", 198 pounds) and the skill to succeed, and his consistent year-to-year improvements are a good sign. As for whether his NCAA success will translate to the professional game: Robert's post on prospects back in March helps us see a reasonable projection, and it's promising. His projected totals were in line with Tyler Toffoli's and he is a potential 20-goal scorer over a full 82-game NHL season. The Kings are pretty stacked at right wing, but his senior year should give us some idea of where Mersch may fit in to the Kings' long-term plans.
If you want to keep track of Mersch's progress at UW this year, check out Bucky's 5th Quarter, SBN's University of Wisconsin blog.