This evening, CapFriendly broke the news that the New Jersey Devils have re-signed Nick Merkley to a two-way contract for one season. The contract is worth $874,125 at the NHL level and $70,000 at the AHL level. As he will be 24 by the time this contract ends, he will be a restricted free agent at the conclusion of this contract.
As Merkley was a restricted free agent, that the Devils re-signed him should be no surprise. That he was re-signed for one season to a two-way contract is understandable. Merkley has yet to prove himself to be a NHL regular. If he can do so in 2020-21, then I would think he would get a one-way contract next year. I also think that is entirely possible given what we know about the player so far.
Merkley was one of the players from Arizona in the Taylor Hall trade back in December 2019. When he was acquired, Merkley primarily played for Tucson of the AHL since turning professional in the 2017-18 season. He went right to Binghamton and started to put in work on the scoresheet. Merkley played 28 games for the B-Devils, mostly on a top line, and posted eight goals and eleven assists. Jeff and The Panel, who grade the Binghamton players on a quarterly basis, rated Merkley very well given his production. He would have had more but he did receive a call-up from New Jersey. Merkley played very well in his four games with the NHL team. As Jenna explained back in September, he created his first NHL goal, he scored his first NHL goal, he took a nasty shot to the eye and still managed to play, and helped push play forward in limited minutes against the Caps. While imperfect, Merkley did something to impress in those four games. This does not necessarily mean Merkley is ready for a full season with the NHL. However, it does mean he could possibly hang at that level. That is promising.
I also want to think the Devils see something in him to as they loaned him out to Porin Ässät of the Finnish Liiga. They wanted to have him be active. He has been. As Brian pointed out in his post about the Devils prospects playing in Europe earlier today, Merkley has had a very good week in Finland. In his last three games (he has played seven in total) he scored his first two goals in Liiga, put up his first two assists in Liiga, took 12 shots, and averaged over 17 minutes of ice time per game. That is the kind of week that will surely continue to give him opportunities to excel with Ässät. As with all of their loaned out players, Devils are certainly paying attention. They will not ignore Merkley’s performances. Especially since Assat has been using him as a right winger; he has taken zero faceoffs in the Liiga so far. With Anderson traded away earlier this month, there will be opportunities for right wingers to make the New Jersey roster. His position and his performances with Ässät can absolutely help Merkley’s cause to make the NHL roster out of training camp.
As a quick aside, Merkley is eligible for waivers in 2020-21. That will also help his cause to make the NHL roster. Given how frugal some teams have been in this offseason, a cheap forward who could play in the league could be at risk of being plucked from waivers.
Regardless, Jenna’s outline of the next steps for Merkley are on track. He has been re-signed by the Devils. He is now producing in Finland. Now he just needs to show up in training camp - whenever that will happen - and demonstrate he is ready for the NHL. This contract makes sense and I wish Merkley continued success in Finland and I hope he does step up and perform when the Devils have their training camp for the 2020-21 season.
With this business taken care of, Tom Fitzgerald now has one more RFA from Binghamton to re-sign in Colton White and then the two big ones for New Jersey: Jesper Bratt and Mackenzie Blackwood. I guess we will see White taken care of first, but we shall see. In the meantime, I would like your take. What do you think about Nick Merkley? (Note: He is eligible for the Top 25 Under 25.) Are you surprised it is a two-way contract for one season? Do you expect him to make the New Jersey roster for 2020-21? If not, do you think he will be a call-up player? What do you expect the Devils to do next in this offseason? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Merkley in the comments. Thank you for reading.