ryan merkleyThe Sharks trade request has been granted as the Sharks traded the defenseman to the Avalanche along with the winger. matt grandson in exchange for side Martin Kaut and defender/winger jacob mac donald.
Merkley was a first-round pick out of San Jose in 2018 (21st overall) and showed plenty of offensive advantages during his youth career in the OHL, where he scored 269 points in 248 games over four seasons. That hasn’t really translated to much offensive success in the minors, though, as he only has two career goals from him 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 dress at the highest 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 $863K ceiling and will be a restricted free agent this summer.
Meanwhile, Nieto 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 useful provider of scoring depth, tallying 34 goals and 47 assists in 251 games. The 30-year-old is producing at a similar rate this season, notching eight goals and seven assists in 45 games with the Sharks while posting a career-high 15:39 per game. He won’t see that kind of ice time in his second round with the Avs, but with the need for reliable bottom-six options, Nieto should still be called upon to play a big role in depth. He is also in the final year of his contract with a salary cap of $850K and will be eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer.
Kaut was also a first-round pick in the 2018 draft, and he was ranked 16th overall for the Avalanche. However, while he impressed in the minor leagues when he was 18 and won an NHL season at 19, he hasn’t had much success at the highest level. So far, he has played in just 47 NHL contests in his career, 27 of which have come this season in which he has just one goal and two assists to his credit while averaging 9:08 per game. night. Kaut has also played in ten AHL games this season, where he has five goals and three assists, and is currently in the minors after being ousted last week. The 23-year-old is also in the final year of his entry-level contract, one that carries an AAV of $863K. He should have a chance to see some regular minutes for San Jose down the stretch in hopes that he becomes a regular in the bottom six in the future.
MacDonald emerged as a defenseman but has recorded plenty of action on the wing this season with Colorado looking for bottom-six options as they have dealt with injuries all year. The 29-year-old has adapted 33 times so far from 2022-23, picking up a pair of assists along with 29 hits. He’s made 74 appearances for the Avs over the past three seasons, which comprises most of his NHL action (aside 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 NHL minimum salary (a $762,500 AAV) and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2024. He is likely to play a similar depth role with the Sharks. , filling in both positions when necessary.
Cap space is limited for the Avalanche and it is worth noting that they are adding just under $100K to their books with this trade. However, they get a more proven striker in Nieto who should bolster their last six and an interesting wild card in Merkley. If he’s able to become a regular defender in the future, this will be a good option for general manager Chris MacFarland. If it doesn’t work out, all it will cost them is a couple of depth options, so it’s a low-risk move that could hold a nice upside as they look to hold on to a playoff spot in the tight Central Division.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
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