The Arizona Coyotes will have to shut down one of their young forwards for the remainder of the 2017-18 season. ’Yotes beat writer Dave Vest relays the message today from GM John Chayka that a lower-body injury for promising 20-year-old winger Nick Merkley will end his first pro season prematurely.
The announcement may seem inconsequential for many reasons. First, and most obvious, is the knowledge that Arizona has nothing to play for down the stretch. Despite picking up 14 wins since the beginning of February, including an impressive 4-1 defeat of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday, the Coyotes still sit in last place in the Western Conference with no incentive to win more games this season. There’s also the fact that Merkley has skated in just one game with Arizona this year, spending almost the entirety of the campaign with the AHL’s Tuscon Roadrunners.
However, the loss of Merkley will still sting for the Coyotes. On one hand, they may have considered bringing the 2015 first-rounder up for a tryout at the NHL level if he had been healthy, to give a future contributor a taste of playing with top competition. That option is now off the table. On the other hand, they also won’t have Merkley for the AHL playoffs, which the organization has stressed as the season has gone on. Chayka even went out and acquired the likes of Jordan Maletta, Trevor Murphy, and Pierre-Cedric Labrie at the deadline, which the young GM acknowledges was to strengthen his minor league roster for a Calder Cup run. The Roadrunners lead the AHL’s Pacific Division and were ready for a strong postseason, behind their overpowering top line of Dylan Strome between Merkley and Mike Sislo. With Merkley out of the equation, the deep playoff run for their young prospects that Arizona so desperately desired may not come.
In the long-term, Merkley’s injury is not expected to hinder him beyond this season and he will surely be in the running for a roster spot with the Coyotes come 2018-19. With better than a point-per-game pace in the AHL this year – 39 points in 38 games – coupled with an ever-growing hockey intelligence, Merkley is not a name going away anytime soon… except for the rest of this season.