Over the last two WHL seasons, NHL teams have been intrigued by the potential of Kelowna Rockets’ forward Nick Merkley.
In the end, it was the Arizona Coyotes who most liked what they saw in the Calgary-born prospect.
The Coyotes selected Merkley 30th overall in the opening round of the NHL entry draft Friday in Sunrise, Fla.
Merkley, who led the Rockets in scoring during the 2014-15 WHL season, said having his named called in the draft was a dream come true.
“I’m super excited,” said Merkley, 18, who had 20 goals and 90 points for the Rockets last season. “It’s a pretty surreal moment to go in the first round. You dream of it your whole life so I’m super pumped. I want to get started with my summer. I haven’t had any time to work out or anything so I’m going to get started this week. I’m excited to get back in the gym.”
The other Rocket to be chosen on Saturday was defenceman Devante Stephens, who was selected in the fifth round, 122nd overall by the Buffalo Sabres.
Stephens came out of relative obscurity this past season and raced up Central Scouting’s rankings as the season progressed.
The 6-foot-1 native of Surrey, who missed much of his final season of midget hockey, was named Kelowna’s rookie of the year for 2014-15.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Hockey League will hold its annual import draft on Tuesday.