The Montreal Canadiens acquired defenseman Jon Merrill from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a fifth round pick in the 2021 draft, along with minor league forward Hayden Verbeek.
The 29-year-old native of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma is an eight-year veteran that was drafted 38th overall by the New Jersey Devils back in 2010. Between New Jersey and Detroit, he also spent three seasons with the Vegas Golden Knights, joining them via the expansion draft for their inaugural season in the NHL. Through 392 regular season games in the NHL, he has 12 goals and 66 points.
This season with the Red Wings, Merrill mostly played second-pairing minutes on the blue line, and collected five points through 36 games. While he missed some time towards the beginning of the season due to Covid protocols, he has been a sturdy defensive-defenseman for Detroit since returning from his illness. He was one of just three players on the Red Wings’ roster with a positive plus/minus rating (plus-2).
The best years of his career so far came during his time with the Golden Knights. During that time, he was primarily used as a bottom-pairing defenseman that rarely played more than 18 minutes a night. His possession rates were strong in that limited role; he did not receive the same kind of “protection” in Detroit and his numbers reflect that. His willingness to play on the right side despite being left-handed also gives his team options when forming their lineup.
With the Canadiens, Merrill should expect to be called upon less than he was with the Red Wings. Montreal should be able to use him on the penalty kill and in other defensive situations. However, his upside is limited beyond that.
For the Red Wings, this move is another in a growing list of moves ahead of the trade deadline. After moving fellow defenseman Patrik Nemeth to the Colorado Avalanche for a fourth round pick, they also retained salary on a move involving defenseman David Savard going from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Tampa Bay Lightning; the Red Wings received another fourth round pick for facilitating that deal. The fifth round pick acquired in this move was previously acquired by Montreal from the Ottawa Senators last year for defenseman Mike Reilly. This move now gives Detroit 10 picks in the first five rounds of the 2021 draft.
Hayden Verbeek, the son of Red Wings assistant general manager Pat Verbeek, was signed by Montreal as an undrafted free agent back in 2018. In seven games this season with the Laval Rocket, the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate, he has three points. The speedy forward may not be anything more than a body for the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate, as Detroit looks to inject their lineup with a few of their younger players.
Merrill was signed to a one-year deal this past offseason that carries a cap hit of $925k. He will likely look to find a longer-term fit once the Canadiens’ season is over.