Over the weeks leading up to the 2018 NHL draft, we're providing prospect profiles and how they would fit with the Flyers, who have two first-round picks — Nos. 14 and 19.
The NHL draft takes place June 22-23 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. The Flyers have nine picks with two in the first, fifth and seventh rounds and one in the second, fourth and sixth. They do not own a third-rounder as it went to the Detroit Red Wings for Petr Mrazek. The 14th pick conveyed from the Brayden Schenn trade. The final details were Schenn to the St. Louis Blues for Jori Lehtera, a 2017 first-round pick (Morgan Frost) and the 14th pick.
Our prospect profiles will touch mostly on prospects projected to go in the 10-20 range but some may require the Flyers having to trade up to select. We’ll identify those prospects.
Team: Guelph (OHL)
It’s hard to overlook Merkley’s offensive instincts and ability as a right-handed defenseman. He has elite speed and acceleration and moves the puck quickly and smoothly. The blueliner has great vision and can make breakout passes look simple. Add in his ability to quarterback a power play and a prospect like Merkley would normally be considered a safe high first-rounder.
Merkley just finished up his second season with Guelph, which selected him with the No. 1 pick in the 2016 OHL draft as a no-brainer. In his first OHL season, Merkley scored 12 goals and 55 points in 62 games. This season, the righty netted 13 markers and 67 points in 63 games. The offensive numbers are gaudy as they were in Triple-A midget hockey when he was “heads and shoulders above everybody else.” Merkley is an elite offensive defenseman prospect with major concerns in his own end and has been labeled as a player who cheats a bit to produce offense. Plus/minus is a flawed stat but in two seasons in the OHL, Merkley is a minus-70. That’s telling.
A major concern with Merkley is his character and maturity. He had a public argument with his former coach in Guelph last season, according to Sudbury Star. He was reportedly cut from Team Canada’s U-18 team because of a conflict. It could be chalked up as a teenager being a teenager, but some teams could be scared away from spending a high pick on him.
Fit with Flyers
The Flyers certainly could use another impact defenseman to insert into their farm system and offensively, Merkley would qualify as such. Add in that he’s a right-handed shot and some may view Merkley as a prospect worth the risk. But there would be considerable risk in selecting Merkley.
One, his defense is an area of concern and there has been chatter he’s been unwilling to work in that area. Two, the maturity aspect. Merkley’s drafting team will require patience, which Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has. Some feel Merkley should be in the top 15 and others see him slipping to the late first round. He doesn’t seem to be a fit with Hextall’s past.
With two first-round picks, it’s possible the Flyers could aim to draft both a forward and a defenseman. It would be a minor surprise, if they keep both, that they don’t take at least one defenseman at either 14 or 19. Fourteen seems a little high with the defensive concerns, but at 19, if he is available, it is worth taking a look at him. His offensive game is as good as it gets.