Ryan Merkley‘s trade request has been granted as the Sharks have traded the defenseman to the Avalanche along with the winger Matt Nieto in exchange for winger Martin Kaut and defender/winger Jacob MacDonald.
Merkley was a first-round pick of San Jose back in 2018 (21st overall) and showed plenty of offensive upside during his junior OHL career, posting 269 points in 248 games over four seasons. However, that hasn’t really translated into much offensive success in the minors, as he only has two career goals in the minors, neither of which came this season. Merkley made his NHL debut in 2021-22, appearing in 39 games with the Sharks, but he hasn’t had a chance to prove himself at the top level this year, resulting in the trade request. He has 14 assists in 30 games with the Barracuda this season. He is in the final year of his entry-level contract with an $863,000 cap hit and will be a restricted free agent this summer.
Nieto, meanwhile, is no stranger to Colorado, having spent parts of four seasons with them between 2016-17 and 2019-20. During that stretch, he was a serviceable provider of deep scoring, with 34 goals and 47 assists in 251 games. The 30-year-old is producing at a similar rate this season, tallying eight goals and seven assists in 45 games with the Sharks while posting a career-high 15:39 per game. match. He won’t see that type of ice time in his second go-round with the Avs, but with them needing reliable options in the bottom six, Nieto should still be called upon to play an important depth role. He is also in the final year of his contract with an $850,000 cap hit and will be eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer.
Kaut was also a first-round pick in the 2018 draft, going 16th overall to the Avalanche. But while he impressed in the minors at 18 and earned an NHL stint at 19, he hasn’t had much success at the top level. So far, he has played in just 47 NHL contests, 27 of which have come this season, where he has just one goal and two assists while averaging 9:08 per game. night. Kaut has also played in ten AHL games this season, with five goals and three helpers, and is currently in the minors after being sent down last week. The 23-year-old is also in the final year of his entry-level deal, one that carries an AAV of $863K. He should get an opportunity to see some regular minutes for San Jose down the stretch in hopes that he develops into a bottom six regular down the road.
MacDonald came up as a defender but has logged a lot of action on the wing this season as Colorado searches for bottom six options as they have dealt with injuries all year. The 29-year-old has made 33 appearances so far in 2022-23 and has picked up a pair of assists along with 29 hits. He has played 74 games with the Avs over the last three seasons, making up the bulk of his NHL action (apart from a two-game stint with Florida in 2018). MacDonald is in the first year of a two-year, two-way contract that pays the minimum salary in the NHL (a $762,500 AAV) and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2024. He will likely play a similar depth role with the Sharks, filling in on both positions when necessary.
Cap space is limited for the Avalanche, and it’s worth noting that they add a little less than $100K to their books with this swap. However, they get a more proven striker in Nieto who should strengthen their bottom six and an interesting wild card in Merkley. If he is able to develop into a regular defensive player down the road, this will be a good pickup for GM Chris MacFarland. Failure to do so will only cost them a few depth options, so it’s a low-risk move that could provide a good amount of upside as they look to hang on to a playoff spot in the tight Central Division.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.