This is a flip the bird type post!
Jon Merrill was not expected to be an offensive force but at the very least, more was expected defensively. The problem this year for the New Jersey Devils is that he really has had two months to forget. What may be worse is that New Jersey was really counting on something a little more err anything more from him.
The second pairing defenseman had been logging some power play time in his first two years. Merrill played 20 1/2 minutes a night in 2014-15. Even in training camp, something did not seem right but John Hynes assumed his game would get sorted out. Simply, it has not and actually a considerable regression has taken place.
Offense wise, Merrill has gotten a point in about one in every five games. Unfortunately, these are his bottom line numbers from this year.
- 0 G 0 A 0 PTS, -5, 10 SOG, 16:26 ATOI
Those are some seriously ghastly numbers and yes that is a four plus minute drop off from his time on ice during the 2014-15 season. As the advanced stats point out from Hockey Reference, his fantasy points have been almost as bad as his actual points. This almost looks like what Bryce Salvador went through at the end of his career but we are talking about a 23 year old defenseman here.
It would be unfair to single out Merrill because guys like Damon Severson and Eric Gelinas have been almost as awful. However, more was expected out of the Michigan alum and literally the struggle is very evident. How much? This much!
I’m doubtful that he’s going to be a good player (as in a top 4 caliber defenseman), but with the way his play has trended he’s starting to look less like a regular NHLer and more like a 7th defenseman/fringe NHLer. Considering the issues the Devils have faced over the past few seasons, he could most definitely benefit from a change of scenery to a team that gets pucks on net more frequently.
The following excerpt is from “On Jon Merrill” from Brick City Mashing. It is probably the most damning two sentence statement on the defenseman that is 100 percent reality. A first year showed a little bit of promise but the second season began the nose dive as Adam Larsson was trusted more and more in the Devils plans. Now, Merrill is basically hanging on to a sixth defenseman spot.
On a low event team, he looks even worse and that is a fact. Considering what the Devils have in their system, if you are sporting a Corsi percentage that is the lowest on the team despite some of the easiest zone starts then one question should be asked. How is Merrill not in Albany or being considered for a trade?
There have been trade rumors and eventually that may come to fruition. His salary is only $840,000 and New Jersey could feasibly walk away next season. The dilemma is he almost has to keep playing to keep his semblance of a trade value up or does he? Teams have probably seen enough by now.
Maybe a conditioning stint in Albany could do something for his confidence. At this point, it cannot hurt. Merrill is scared out of his wits to make mistakes and literally is overthinking constantly. Little or nothing goes right and even media has turned on him. His slide down the pecking order kind of signifies the coaching staff has as well to an extent. When you have zero points despite paying the minutes he has then there are problems.
only 2 NHL skaters have played 200+ mins and have a lower pts/60 than Hunwick – Matt Carle and Jon Merrill.
— Stephen Burtch (@SteveBurtch) November 30, 2015
He is still young though and that is the frustrating part. However, when the numbers from Puckalytics suggest much worse then what? When Merrill is on the ice, the team scores 1.16 goals for per 60 but allows 2.12 goals per 60. that is problematic considering that is a -0.63 goals per game departure from the team relative. New Jersey shoots less when he is on the ice and visually when you see a defenseman hugging the center of the ice, everyone notices including opposing teams and scouts.
When a defeseman is so reluctant to try and create offense, it is a sign that something must be done. The sooner John Hynes and staff realizes this, the better. Puck pursuit and support becomes much harder when a player just cannot do the job. Sadly for Merrill, it is that low event hockey that is just further killing what is left of his game err those good attributes he once had.
Lastly, he has to bulk up in his upper body. Whatever may happen next, the defenseman must have more strength to knock people off the puck.He does not quite possess that ability right now. If you cannot clear guys out the crease or at least play more physical, then his roster spot has to be tenuous at best.
What can New Jersey do short term? Basically they need a player that can be on the ice for 15 or 16 minutes and not kill them too badly. Can you trust Gelinas in that role? Most would say no but at least he shoots the puck. Merrill has just ten shots in 22 games. Every metric is of and honestly anyone might be an improvement.
Would you call anyone up from the AHL? At this juncture, it would not be a good idea IF Merrill goes on a ten day conditioning stint. Now if he comes back and the malaise continues or gets worse then a change of scenery is needed. After that, you either hope to acquire a defenseman or just make a roster call up. New Jersey will have to take its medicine in the meantime. That means playing guys like Gelinas or call ups. Oh my!