I wasn't quite sure what to make of this commitment. As I was searching around for more information on a player so young he hadn't shown up on my radar yet, I asked someone whose opinion I respect on all matters of amateur scouting what he thought about Merrill. The response I got was both very vague, and very telling.
"He's most likely the next Jack Johnson if he doesn't develop into the next Steve Spade."
That starts off as a beautiful sentence for Michigan fans, until you get to that gigantic two-letter gorilla in the middle of the sentence. If.
For those that may not remember, Jack Johnson and Steve Spade were considered near equals at the 2002 Select 15 Festival. Jack Johnson went on to become Jack Johnson, while Spade basically flamed out, playing a long, average career in the OHL, and never getting drafted by an NHL team.
So was this a good move by assistant coaches Mel Pearson and Billy Powers, who handle Michigan's recruiting, and one of whom will likely be head coach by the time Jon Merrill steps on campus? Allow me to delve into the world of complicated, drawn-out metaphor for a moment, and I'll let you decide for yourself.
Mel and Billy are up on the stage, staring at two scantily-clad women holding briefcases. They've got a legion of fans behind them, anxiously awaiting their next move. Howie Mandel is standing next to them, with his freshly shaved head, and he's still not all that funny. And it's time for them to make a decision.
In one of the briefcases, you've got the next Jack Johnson. A dominating defenseman that will instantly be one of the best players in the country. Landing a player of his caliber is easily the equivalent of the $1 million grand prize.
In the other briefcase, you've got the next Steve Spade. He's not a complete bust, but also not the player you were hoping for. He can maybe contribute as a 5th or 6th defenseman, and may need a couple years to adjust to the college game. We'll say that's the equivalent of opening a $1000 suitcase.
And of course, there has to be an enticing offer from the banker. The banker calls down and tells Howie "My offer is for Michigan to wait a couple years. Scout the USHL and the NTDP, and see who develops into one of the better players. They may not get a superstar like Jack Johnson, but they'll get a solid 2nd or 3rd defenseman that should be able to contribute." Think along the lines of a Steve Kampfer or Jason Dest. We'll say a player like that is roughly the equivalent of a $450,000 prize.
It's a difficult choice for the coaches, and the more conventional wisdom might dictate that they take the more safe option from the banker. But Michigan is willing to take the gamble and try to walk away with the grand prize. They've picked their briefcase and they're pretty confident that they'll be happy with the result.
The only problem is that instead of waiting until after the commercial break, we're gonna have to wait four years before we really find out just what is inside.