Sports: Former first-round pick Nick Merkley signs in KHL

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Fresh off of a successful AHL season, 2015 first-round pick Nick Merkley is headed to Europe. The Calgary native has signed a one-year contract of KHL side Dinamo Minsk, per a team announcement.

Nick Merkley (10) is headed overseas. © Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports Nick Merkley (10) is headed overseas.

Merkley, 25, has been a talented, high-end scorer at every level of hockey he’s played in besides the NHL. At the AHL level, Merkley has 157  points in 201 career games. At that level, he’s a line-driving playmaker with a knack for setting up his linemates and finding his way onto the scoresheet. At the NHL level, Merkley has struggled to make his mark, and his lack of size (he’s just 5-foot-10, 195 pounds) and his lack of breakaway skating talent have combined to make him ineffective in an NHL role.

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Merkley was actually part of a trade last season, being shipped from the San Jose Sharks organization to the New York Rangers in exchange for depth defenseman Anthony Bitetto. Merkley heads to the KHL, one of the most challenging leagues in the world outside of the NHL, with at least some success in Europe on his resume. Merkley played 19 games for Assat Pori of the Finnish Liiga in 2020-21, scoring a healthy 13 points in 19 games in what can sometimes be an overly conservative league.

Merkley joins a Dinamo Minsk side that is eager to improve its offensive attack after a middling 2021-22 campaign, a season where it finished in the middle of the KHL standings. Merkley will join fellow former NHLers John Gilmour, Alexei Emelin, Ryan Spooner and Nikolai Zherdev in Belarus, with the hope that a productive campaign there can earn him a chance at another NHL training camp and perhaps the opportunity to finally emerge as the type of regular NHL-er he was projected to become at the 2015 draft.

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