Rockets’ Nick Merkley Turning Heads Again After Surgery

Almost a year ago, Nick Merkley was dealt a pretty devastating blow after being drafted by the Arizona Coyotes that past June and then tearing his ACL in February in a game against the Spokane Chiefs. It was the kind of injury that couldn’t have come at a worse time as his team was gearing up for another run in the playoffs and having been drafted, it was a chance to show what he could be to the Coyotes.

Life throws some interesting curves.

Fast forward to this year and Merkley’s rehab from his injury was slow going. He was getting the proper conditioning and treatment down in Arizona and when it was time to come back to Kelowna, everyone felt he was good to go. The thing is, ACL’s don’t just “heal”. It’s a pretty significant injury that can affect how a player in any sport reacts going forward.

Unless you happen to be Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings (a superhuman, basically) you probably will have a longer healing period to get back to the point you were producing, if at all.

Upon returning to Kelowna, Merkley had a slow start which should have been expected. In his first 10 games this season, Nick racked up a paltry goal and 4 assists, with his first goal coming in his 10th game back. Including that 10th game, Merkley went on to score 6 times and added 2 assists in his next 6 games.

It wasn’t just the production on the score sheet, but the way in which he got back to what he did best. Merkley fought the puck a lot to start the year and it was pretty visible that his frustration caused him to clinch the stick a bit tighter and get away from the thinking game he dominated so much. You no doubt have heard me sing his praises since his rookie campaign, and for good reason: he’s amazingly talented.

As this season has gone forward, Nick has put the team on his back many nights and just when opponents tried to get on his, he brought “the swivel” back into his game and quite frankly, there aren’t many players that I’ve watched in any league that can execute that shake like he can.

Maybe not one of his best, but the success rate he has with that move is almost 100%.

Watching Merkley perfect the little things is what excites me the most, his shot seems to be more on point and his passing game is once again becoming a strong suit. He still is a little choosy when dishing the puck but he rarely disappoints when the puck hits his team mate’s stick, maybe you’ve seen this one already?

Despite the losses his Kelowna Rockets team has endured lately, Merkley has put up 8 points in his last 10 and with rookie Nolan Foote being out for an extended amount of time, Dillon Dube, Tomas Soustal and Calvin Thurkauf being away at the World Juniors and now Kole Lind and Cal Foote strutting their stuff at the Top Prospects Game, there have been many nights where Merkley has had to step up and represent the “A” on his shoulder.

Many of these players have been getting more publicity in the media lately as they have their own stories to be told but Nick has been evermore the continual beast on the ice and looks to prove his doubters wrong (if there are even any) that an ACL can’t hold him back. His late first round spot also serves as a chip to show the rest of the NHL what they are missing out on.

In his rookie season, I stated he had the hockey mind of Wayne Gretzky. Super, bold statement, I know. I am not comparing the two as equals as a whole and there will definitely be someone that will want to destroy me for even uttering those words but watching him think out the game in real-time is amazing to watch.

You can tell he knows where the puck will end up because either he’s there shooting it or another Rocket has the puck creating a scoring chance off his pass. It’s a shame that Nick wasn’t able to showcase himself at the World Junior tournament the last two years but it only serves to motivate him in his quest to be an NHLer.

Breaking down his distribution of points, of his 22 assists this year, Merkley’s has 18 primary assists, 1 back of first on the team. He accounts for 7.87% of the Kelowna Rockets’ total team points which ranks 4th on the team and his percentage of total goals created is 4th with 21.94%.Β As far as the power play goes, 75% of his goals are produced on the man advantage, which is tops on the Rockets this season. Shame to see him out of the lineup, although with the staggering amount of penalties the Rockets take, 812 total PIM and 16.2 PIM/GM (both tops in the WHL), the power play isn’t exactly out that much.

No longer having Rourke Chartier as his linemate, Merkley’s rediscovered how to be self-sufficient and at the same time put his stick in a position to help the rest of his team out. Having Thurkauf on his line is a treat as they just know how to feed off of each other. The open ice hits have come back as well to Merk’s arsenal and he’s proving he isn’t a one-trick pony.

Kelowna will have to get their problems figured out if they’re going to have any kind of success this postseason and Nick Merkley will once again be a major reason they achieve extended success. Surgery hasn’t silenced Merkley, in fact, it’s awoken the beast.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

photo – kelownarockets.com

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