- Click here for my Swift Current Online article
- Click here for the official press release
- Click here for interviews and analysis from ‘Overtime’ on The Eagle 94.1 FM
- Click here for the Hurricane Watch blog post
A big deal today by the Swift Current Broncos. As I said on Overtime tonight (and thanks to those who listened) it is an addition in Jay Merkley that tics every box for what the Broncos are looking for. He’s a right-handed shooting forward who brings goal scoring ability and as a 1995 born player fits right in to Swift Current’s developing cluster of young talent with the likes of Dillon Heatherington and Brycen Martin.
Merkley was one of the most highly touted players in the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft and has produced at every level he has played. It’s not hard to imagine him in Swift Current’s top six for several years to come.
It is hard to lose a guy like Josh Derko. He’s the type of player whose will and heart helps you win championships. He will give Lethbridge everything he has and leave it all on the ice every night. The Broncos have become team tough over the last two years (something Derko helped them develop) and could perhaps afford to move a strong, gritty player like Derko in that context. That said, it’s still a big loss and an addition that should make the Hurricanes harder to play against.
I also feel like he has started to take his offensive game up a notch this year. He has always had a really hard shot, but this year we’ve seen him get more pucks to the net after he toned up and got faster over the summer. I wonder if he can build on that in Lethbridge.
No matter how you analyze the “winners” and “losers” of the deal it’s clearly a trade that sees two teams with depth in different areas trade from that depth to address a perceived need. We can only wait and see how it will work out in doing that. I think the move makes a lot of sense for the Broncos and addresses some of the needs fans have been talking without having to trade stars like Lowry and Scarlett in the process. Now it looks like those guys will be staying put unless something crazy happens before Thursday’s deadline.
The move does alleviate some of Swift Current’s logjam of 19-year-olds and adds a healthy body to their lineup immediate in place of the still injured Derko. Merkley will get every opportunity to thrive here and could instantly be inserted on the top power play unit. I’m curious to see where he winds up at even strength as the Broncos have different options they could toy with up the middle now.
What else could the Broncos do? Coach Lamb talked about adding another (I presume veteran) defenceman and didn’t rule out finding more scoring touch when asked about the Alex Forsberg situation. Guy Flaming of the Pipeline Show told me in an interview I will run during our game broadcast on Wednesday that 18 teams have called Prince George about Forsberg so the Broncos wouldn’t be alone if they had some interest. There are also apparently some overage guys in play around the league. Whether they do something before Thursday or not, I would guess the Broncos have made their most significant pre-deadline addition.
For those fans who have been calling for the Broncos to sell… does this addition do enough for you to be happy with keeping the remaining veterans? Or do you still think the team’s decision to likely hang on to those guys is a mistake? Coach Lamb said on the show today there is logic in that opinion even if it’s not one he shares right now. He also noted there has to be someone willing to pay the right kind of price and it doesn’t look like there would be anyway.
Gregg Drinnan has word on a couple of other Bronco related moves recently. Former Bronco prospect Matthew Gelinas signed with the Tri-City Americans. He had been having a fine 17-year-old season in Major Midget AAA after the Broncos had dropped him. I heard he had expressed a likely desire to go the NCAA route, though it looks like that’s not the case. Former Bronco Adam Smith is joining the Spokane Chiefs on a tryout basis after spending parts of this season with two BCHL teams and a VIJHL team. He had just joined the Salmon Arm Silverbacks before getting the call from Spokane.
Another former Bronco, Andy Blanke is back in junior hockey with the Flin Flon Bombers of the SJHL. It’s my understanding that Blanke will remain enrolled at the University of Sasaktchewan while he wraps up his junior career this winter. He left the WHL to play CIS and attend school this season, but hasn’t played for the Huskies yet. This move gives Blanke a chance to get back on the ice and make a run for a championship with a good Bombers club. I’m sure local fans who made him one of their favourites wish him nothing but the best in the SJHL.
Meanwhile, I want to welcome Merkley to Swift Current and wish Derko the best of luck with the Hurricanes. He’s a class act and should quickly become a fan favourite in Lethbridge.
Here is my article from Swift Current Online:
The Swift Current Broncos got younger and more skilled with the addition of 17-year-old forward Jay Merkley on Monday.
“We sure didn’t want to get rid of Derko,” Broncos Coach/GM Mark Lamb told the panel during ‘Overtime’ on The Eagle 94.1 Monday night. “He’s been a player who has been here as long as I have. I think he is improved a lot. He’s a player that anybody in the league would want. We needed to get a goal scorer, the age group works for us, so we thought it was a deal we had to do.”
Merkley has scored 14 goals and has 8 assists through 44 games this season. He has 23 points in 58 games as a 16-year-old rookie. His addition brings the Broncos a second right-handed shot in their forward group.
“Merkley’s a pure goal scorer,” Lamb noted. “He’s not a great skater but it’s not bad, he’s a good playmaker also. He really shoots the puck. When he gets a chance in the slot he’s one of those guys who can bury it… you don’t go third overall in the draft if you don’t put up some numbers. We expect him to keep up the goal scoring and even surround him better than he was in Lethbridge.”
The Calgary native scored 71 points in 33 games during his final season of bantam. He added 43 points in 32 Major Midget AAA games as a 15-year-old. Merkley also played for Team Pacific at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge last year.
He had to waive his no-trade clause to come to the Broncos.
“Looking forward to a fresh start in Swift,” Merkley tweeted on Monday night after the deal was announced.
Other reactions included a tweet from former teammate Brody Sutter calling the trade of Merkley a “mistake” and one from Broncos Captain Adam Lowry saying he “can’t wait to see what this guy can do for us in a Bronco jersey.”
Meanwhile, a number of Broncos wished Derko well after news of the trade became public. He also thanked the organization for his two and a half seasons in Swift Current.
“Thanks to the (Broncos) for everything,” Derko tweeted. “Really enjoyed my time here and couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Hope I meant as much to the boys as they meant to me. I’m gonna miss you all.”
Derko played 143 games for the Broncos. He has 11 points in 33 games this season and is currently out of the lineup with a lower body injury. He was Swift Current’s 5th round pick, 100th overall in the 2008 WHL Bantam Draft.
LOWRY NOT MOVING
Lamb also shed light on his thinking as Thursday’s trade deadline approached. Fans and pundits have wondered whether the Broncos would consider trading veteran star Adam Lowry to one of the league’s top contenders.
“I don’t know how anyone could afford Lowry right now,” Lamb said. “The prices are very steep, he’s one of the top players in the league. We want to surround him not have him leave town… we’re not selling for the future like we did with Eakin. We’re still in a building process but it’s for now and in the future. I think we’re good enough to compete with the other teams.”
Swift Current isn’t closing the door on any other moves before Thursday.
“We’ve got a couple of other options that are on the table right now not sure if they’re going to work,” Lamb said. “We’d like to add another (defenceman).”
The Broncos will welcome Merkley to their lineup when they host Red Deer on Wednesday. They will also welcome back goalie Eetu Laurikainen from the World Junior Hockey Championship and defenceman Brycen Martin back from the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
You can hear Wednesday’s game live on The Eagle 94.1 FM with The New Pioneer Co-op Home Centre Broncos Hockey at 6:30pm.
Click here for a podcast of Monday’s ‘Overtime’ broadcast. The new sports talk show is sponsored by Home Hardware and airs live from Boston Pizza every Monday at 6pm.