Who is Nick Merkley?
According to Pension Plan Puppets' combined draft rankings, Merkley is the 14th-highest ranked prospect... but it's almost a given that he'll be available at #13. A curious fact, explained away fairly easily: his track record is solid, and he should contribute at the NHL level if he follows a normal course of development. So very few scouts are putting him outside of the first round.
Consensus Ranking: #16-20
Highest Ranking: #11, Craig Button, TSN
Lowest Ranking: #23 (North American), NHL Central Scouting
Why he might be gone before #13
Despite a downturn in his point totals during the second half, Merkley still came in as the WHL's sixth-most productive scorer, and he maintained that pace with a dominant performance in the WHL playoffs (27 points in 19 games) to propel the Kelowna Rockets to a WHL title. Those point totals beat out not only some of the top prospects in this year's draft (Matthew Barzal, Jansen Harkins, and Paul Bittner), they beat out some of last year's best (Nikita Scherbak, Brayden Point, and Chase De Leo).
Why he might be available at #13
Even with a highly impressive final point total, falling off the pace in the second half costs Merkley a chance at going higher. It also doesn't help that 70 of Merkley's 90 points were assists, as teams might be looking for more prolific goal scorers with their lottery pick. As we mentioned with Svechnikov, very few people think Merkley will go with one of the first dozen selections, so he should be there for the taking if the Los Angeles Kings want him.
Why the Kings might draft him
There's a reason that Merkley and Travis Konecny (our mock draft pick) often appear in the same sentence in draft previews. Like Konecny, Merkley can play both center and wing. He's got energy to burn and a big work ethic. He's worn a letter on his jersey. The biggest difference? While Konecny put together two very similar scoring seasons, Merkley made a leap in points while moving backwards in goals. If you think he's going to continue down the playmaker route he showcased this year, he offers a different dimension than most of the other potential picks. And aside from Kopitar, it's not a role that's really seen in Los Angeles.
Although, the Kings might not be expecting to see Merkley in LA anytime soon. That's okay, too. Merkley is more of a project pick than guys like Timo Meier and Evgeny Svechnikov; if a project pick is putting up 90 points in the WHL now, his ceiling could be pretty darn high.
Oh, and he's a winner, naturally.
Why the Kings might pass him up
When you hear a prospect is a "playmaker," is your immediate reaction one of excitement, or one of curiosity? A lot of highly rated prospects have a calling card that makes them really intriguing, but "playmaker" doesn't always say much other than "the guy sees well and passes well." That's especially true for Merkley, as the scouting reports don't give a lot of play to his stickhandling ability. Take a look at Craig Button's scouting description, for instance...
It's very positive, but again, it doesn't really emphasize any part of his toolbox other than his motor. So it isn't quite as tantalizing. And that's from the guy who has him rated higher than anyone else does! At the bottom of the first round, you're thrilled to get a guy with Merkley's track record. In the middle of the first round? If the Kings haven't had any aspect of Merkley's game pop out at them, they'll go with someone else.
(For all I know, maybe the Kings' scouts have fallen in love with this kid, and you can write all that off.)
For the lazy, your one-sentence summary:
The size and flash might not be top-15 worthy, and the Kings will likely go in a different direction, but his production will get him a look.