Monday Morning Mailbag: Where does Jon Merrill fit in the Golden Knights’ plans?

Answering your Golden Knights questions!

Folks. It’s August 27, which means it’s almost September, which also means that training camp is just a couple weeks away! Hockey is right around the corner and it can’t get here soon enough.

For those unfamiliar with the Pokemon universe, the little blue mouse-like creature above is called Marill. The Golden Knights have a Marill of their own, but taller, skinnier, spells his last name differently and, of course, is human.

Jon Merrill, 26, is getting set for a pretty interesting year. Merrill certainly didn’t blow anybody away with his play last season (one goal and just three points in 34 regular season appearances), but the Oklahoma native seemed to impress George McPhee and company. So much so that they rewarded him with a two-year, $2.75 million contract extension in January.

Merrill didn’t play the biggest role for Vegas last season, but he did enough to earn a future with the Knights as a seventh defenseman. That said, though, it’s fair to wonder where the former Devil stands as the preseason approaches. Nate Schmidt, Brayden McNabb, Colin Miller, Deryk Engelland, Nick Holden and Shea Theodore (assuming he ever gets signed) are pretty much all locks to make the Knights’ roster out of camp. If that does end up being the case, Merill would figure to once again be the seventh defenseman. However, that role won’t simply be given to him. He’ll have to earn it as some of Vegas’ younger defensemen, namely Zach Whitecloud and Nicolas Hague, challenge him in camp for a role of their own. Granted, it’s unlikely either Whitecloud or Hague will pry that spot away from Merrill, but it’s certainly possible.

Oh, and let’s also not forget about Brad Hunt, who performed well at times for Vegas last season in 45 games.

This is going to be a telling year for William Karlsson. His 2017-18 campaign was impeccable, but no one in NHL history has been able to sustain a shooting percentage as high as his from last season (23.4). Could Karlsson end up being the outlier? It’s possible, and maybe he’ll continue to score at will like he did last year. But that’s highly unlikely.

From a realistic standpoint, a good goal total for Karlsson this coming season would be around 30, and that seems extremely doable for the 25-year-old. Not only will he continue to play on the top line with Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, who both had a huge impact on Karlsson’s breakout season, but he also still has something to prove. Once again, Karlsson will become a restricted free agent next summer. If he continues to produce at the pace he displayed last season, he’ll be given a massive pay raise. But if he doesn’t, he’ll be leaving a lot of money on the table.

I personally do not believe any of Vegas’ draft picks will make the team out of camp. George McPhee is very hesitant about bringing up prospects at an early age, so someone will really have to dominate camp to earn a spot on the roster this season.

On the other hand, though, I wouldn’t be shocked to see a player like Hague, who will be playing in the AHL this season, earn a call-up at some point during the season. Sometimes all it takes is an injury or two to give a young player a shot to prove himself in an NHL contest. It happens quite regularly. Just ask Dylan Ferguson about it.

I’d like to think Shea Theodore will be under contract at some point before the turn of the new century, but hey! Nobody knows!

Realistically, the Golden Knights open up camp in just a couple weeks. You have to believe they’ll want Theodore there and ready to go. No one will benefit from Theodore missing valuable playing time this summer, so it’s not out of the question that something could get done before camp gets underway.

I’d say there’s a 99.99-percent chance that David Clarkson never plays a single minute of hockey in a Knights uniform.