There’s been no shortage of coverage of the Golden Knights surplus of defensemen. We’ve gushed over blueliners like Shea Theodore, Nate Schmidt, and Erik Brannstrom. We spewed our opinions on Jason Garrison’s salary, Deryk Engelland’s value, Luca Sbisa’s language diversity, and Clayton Stoner’s headless grizzly bear. However, one VGK defenseman remains a man of mystery, and he just so happened to be the first one to show up in Vegas for Training Camp.
The future looked bright for Jon Merrill when he made his debut in 2013. The young, physical, puck-moving defenseman was a hit after his first 52 games. Following a promising rookie season, Merrill gradually got worse. He’s had this knack for being on the ice for opponent goals, whether it’s his fault or not. Merrill’s +/- totals got uglier by the season.
In 2015-16, the 25-year-old defenseman had career lows in games, goals, points, +/-rating, shots, and time on ice. Pretty brutal for a third-year, second-round draft pick. A season plagued with injuries also hurt Merrill’s maturity. He lost his coaches trust and was thought of as a lost cause.
Right away, you’d think Merrill sees an incredible opportunity in Las Vegas. This could be the change needed to get his career back on track. Just don’t expect much, if any, offensive production this season. Merrill won’t generate offense from the point like Colin Miller or Nate Schmidt. In fact, his career-high in shots (47) is the third lowest for a Golden Knights defensemen.
|Player||Shots on Goal||Shots Attempted|
Another indication of offensive impact is power-play participation. On man-advantages, Merrill played very little last season. He was barely used on 5-on-4 or a 4-on-3 situations. That being said, this is not uncommon for Golden Knights.
2017 Power Play Minutes Per Game
It’s clear, the Okie won’t light the lamp much but don’t fret, there are some positive aspects to Merrill’s on-ice play.
The VGK defenseman is very comfortable on the other side of special teams. Gerard Gallant may want to take advantage of Merrill’s short-handed experience. New Jersey Head Coach John Hynes relied on Merrill’s physicality and shutdown skills to kill penalties.
Shorthand Minutes Per Game
It’s a good assumption the Golden Knights will be down a man multiple times a game. If the penalty-kill consistently fails, it could be a longer season than expected. It’s important for the the franchise to develop a strong special teams. Merrill could prove his worth on penalty-killing alone. More ice time, change of scenery and focus could help Merrill get his career back on track.
Getting a strong defensive zone presence would be an invaluable asset for Vegas. It’s time for Merrill to fully develop and effectively play his position. His low production and ineffective shooting should be balanced out by defensive puck-control, zone retrieval and neutral-zone skills. It’s just a matter of staying on the ice, and off the injury or DNP list. Let’s be honest, one goal per season won’t help the Golden Knights much.
Well, it could. If a team is trying to tank. No. I kid, I kid.