Los Angeles Kings: Defensive free agent target, Jon Merrill

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

If the Los Angeles Kings are looking for a defenseman on a bridge deal, Jon Merrill could be an intriguing option.

With the Los Angeles Kings reportedly looking for a defenseman to bolster the left side, we’re looking at several unrestricted free agents that could potentially make sense. A quick reminder, we recently looked at Dmitry Kulikov, who’s a big, physical blue liner.

Sticking with a similar skater in that he’s a stay-at-home defenseman, Jon Merrill could be an intriguing yet inexpensive option in the offseason. Merrill, 28, was drafted by the Devils in the second round of the 2020 NHL Draft.

His best season in New Jersey came during the 2014-2015 season when he scored two goals with 12 assists, tallying two powerplay goals as well. Merrill topped that in 2018-2019 with the Golden Knights, scoring three goals with 12 assists and a +16 rating.

Merrill tallied career-bests in points-per-game (0.26) and shots-per-game (1.26). Simply put, the more he’s involved in the offense, the more valuable he is to the team. But don’t let that take away how sound he is on the blue line. Merrill recorded a team-high 4.9 defensive goals-above-replacement (GAR). The previous year, he tallied the third-best defensive GAR (4.4).

He’s not the most physical guy on the blue line, but Merrill will lay his body on the line to block a few shots, as demonstrated by the fifth-most blocked shots (77) on the team this past year.

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According to Evolving Hockey, the Oklahoma City native is projected to receive a one-year bridge deal, worth $1.8M, which could be exactly what the Kings are looking for. Merrill has come at a reasonable price for the Golden Knights, with a $1.4M cap hit in each of the last two seasons. But he played like a guy who was being paid at a $3.4M AAV, per EV.

Merrill selflessly stepped up to play two games at forward when the Knights were short on bodies – scoring a goal in the process – but he saw former LA King Alec Martinez take his job after being acquired. The Golden Knights also signed defenseman Nick Holden to a two-year contract extension, so Merrill will definitely be available in the free-agent market.

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Given how offensive-minded Matt Roy is, Merrill would be the perfect complement on the Kings second line, balancing the defense with the offense from the blue line. Again, he (Merrill) will not ‘wow’ anyone, but he’s sound on the defensive line.