Next up for Minnesota Wild defensemen to receive their report card is Jon Merrill who quickly became a fan favorite after joining the team last summer during free agency. He had spent four seasons with the New Jersey Devils then three more with the Vegas Golden Knights, and finally, split one season between the Detroit Red Wings and Montréal Canadiens before landing with the Wild for 2021-22.
Merrill wasn’t lucky enough to miss out on the injury bug completely but he did fair better than some of his teammates. He missed two games in January due to COVID and was a healthy scratch for one game, right before he received an upper-body injury that caused him to miss the next 10 games. Adding it all up, he missed a total of 12 games overall.
Merrill’s Career-High Season
Even with missing 12 games, Merrill set a career-high in games played with 69. In those games, he scored four goals and 16 assists for 20 points. Those numbers aren’t very impressive, but for him, each of them was a career-high. He ranked on the lower end of Wild players for points tallied, but his main focus was his defensive skills. He was about the middle of the pack with 46 hits, he’d hit when necessary but he did sacrifice a lot of his body in a different way.
The number of blocked shots Merrill had was second only to Jonas Brodin, as he set a career-high with 112 in his 69 games played and that was by far his best defensive area. He struggled with giveaways, as he had 21 throughout the season and only six takeaways. However, he did help a lot on the penalty kill, where he spent 134:48 shorthanded and ranked among the top four defensemen on the team. With all his time spent on the penalty kill, he barely spent any on the power play. For the entire season, he played 2:02 while a man up. Clearly, his talents were better suited to defending than scoring.
Merrill was also on the list of defensemen that are clearly not recognized for all they bring to their team. However, some players perform better when they aren’t in the spotlight. They’re able to work behind the scenes quietly and get the job done, and that’s how Merrill seems to work best. He scores when he’s able, but focuses on blocking shots and protecting his goaltender most of the time.
Merrill’s Postseason Contributions
While it may be small, Merrill was able to contribute on the scoring side of things with a single assist in the postseason. It was in Game 6 where he assisted on the only goal for the Wild scored by a fellow defenseman, Matt Dumba. It gave the Wild the last little bit of hope for a comeback, but they ended up running out of time. Once again, while he was able to produce some on offense, his defense was above everyone else.
Instead of coming in second, Merrill took over the first-place position amongst his teammates for most blocked shots with 12 in the six games he played in the postseason, as he just beat Jacob Middleton by one block. He also had better luck with his giveaways and takeaways than in the regular season, recording two and four respectively.
Merrill’s performance wasn’t at top of the charts and he didn’t carry the team, but he did help them have a chance by blocking all those shots, as he supported his goaltenders by making sure pucks didn’t make it to the net. His defense was some of the best on the team and they’ll need that next season, especially if they make it to the playoffs again.
Merrill’s Final Grade
Merrill had a great regular season and a decent postseason. He adjusted well to his new team and quickly became a fan favorite, especially with his great hairstyle which caught a lot of attention. His blocked shots were an integral part of the team and even though he wasn’t the top defenseman, he was one of the mainstays all season.
The career-highs Merrill achieved both offensively and defensively made an impact on the team and while his offense may not have been high, it was more than expected for his style of defenseman. He’s the typical stay-at-home guy that only worries about scoring when he has ample opportunity. For all his efforts throughout the season, he’s earned an A-.
Merrill’s grade is a bit higher because he stuck to his defensive responsibilities and didn’t let up even into the playoffs. He kept his mind focused on what needed to be done and he did what he could. While the blame lies on every player on the team, he deserves a little less of it since he continued to do his job. Thankfully, the Wild don’t have to worry about him for a few years, as they prioritized signing him and got it taken care of halfway through the season with a nice three-year contract. He’s a good defenseman they’ll be happy they kept around in the seasons to come.
Mariah Holland is a contributing Minnesota Wild writer for THW. She’s been covering the Wild at THW since October of 2020 and specializes in game takeaways and weekly check-ins. She is always looking for different angles to cover the Wild and dig deeper into the stories surrounding the team to help fans connect on a more personal level and to keep an eye on the latest follow her on Twitter @MariahEStark.