The Los Angeles Kings announced the signings of forwards Michael Mersch (4th round / 2011) of Wisconsin and Nic Dowd (7th round / 2009) of St. Cloud State to entry level contracts earlier today. Per the collective bargaining agreement, Mersch’s ELC spans three years, and Dowd’s spans one year. For more on Dowd, a Hobey Baker finalist, read this LAKI story from last week.
Both players will report to AHL-Manchester.
Mersch, 21, signed with Los Angeles after deciding to return to Madison for his senior season one year ago. With 22 goals, the Chicago native and Ottawa prospect Ryan Dzingel tied for the most goals scored by a Big Ten player in 2013-14. He also led the conference with 10 power play goals and 162 shots and was named first-team All-Big Ten.
After winning the inaugural Big Ten tournament, the Badgers, a one-seed, fell 5-2 to fourth-seeded North Dakota in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Mersch finished his collegiate career by totaling 120 points (67-53=120) while playing in all 157 of Wisconsin’s games over that time span.
“We’re real excited,” said Nelson Emerson, Los Angeles Kings Player Development. “He went back for his senior year, and he kind of lived up to what he had hoped would happen, that he would have a successful season. He played on a good team that had a good year. Obviously he fell a little short, but he was able to go there and succeed. He had 20 goals again. He led the conference in goals, and so his development as a player that way, he lived up to what he wanted to do.”
In case you missed his earlier highlight reel goal, here’s one that graced the pixels of LA Kings Insider last season:
Earlier this month, Chris Dilks of SB Nation ranked Mersch 70th amongst the top-100 NHL prospects in NCAA Hockey.
Mersch’s skating has always been his biggest weakness, but there’s no doubt that he knows how to put the puck in the net. The senior is just one goal away from his second consecutive 20-goal season. It’s tough to tell if Mersch will be able to keep up that scorer’s touch at the pro level, or if his lack of foot speed will finally catch up to him, but his upside as a power play sniper should earn him a contract from Los Angeles after he graduates this spring.
Ryan Evans, also of SB Nation, took note of Mersch’s skating stride.
While he displayed elite goal-scoring ability at the NCAA level, Mersch needs to develop his skating, which was his primary weakness in college, to translate that to the pro game. His power play prowess and good size will afford him the opportunity to showcase himself at the pro level and he has the potential to develop into a solid power forward.
He is “diligent” in developing his skating, according to Badgers head coach Mike Eaves.
“Michael will bring his big body and his ability to use that to the professional level,” Eaves said in a press release. “He is a big man. He scores goals in the hard areas using that big body, and he has been really diligent in becoming a better skater. He is a much better skater now than he was as a freshman and he’ll have to continue to work on that because he is going to the next level. He has a work ethic and the character to get that done.”
In speaking with Emerson, it’s clear the Kings have an offensive-minded prospects who isn’t afraid to go to areas on the ice where goals are scored.
“He’s a guy that once the puck gets into the offensive zone, he has an asset that very few players have,” Emerson said. “He’s big, he’s strong on the puck, he wins all these offensive battles around the boards and around the paint that makes him have an asset that very few players have, and that asset is scoring goals in the tough areas. So why it makes us so excited about him becoming a pro is that he’s going to be able to hopefully bring these assets to us in our organization as a King. He’s able to do it better than anyone else. Why we get excited is because when you look at players like an Andrew Brunette or someone like that who’s good in front of the net, like a [Tomas] Holmstrom or someone like that. This is that type of player. We use that. We keep continuing to build that and make it better, and then we work on all the other parts of his game.”
Emerson, on college seniors facing a particular challenge:
It is worrisome, because senior years are tough, because the only one pushing you is yourself, right? He had to push himself to be a contributor to their team, and also to be their leader offensively. That’s hard in itself, and he was able to accomplish that. He went back for his senior year. He kind of lived up to his obligation that he was going to go back for school, get his degree and continue his good hockey playing, which he did. He was all team, all-league forward. So there you go. He’s lived up to his obligation. He achieved that, and you know what? The kid’s got a degree from Wisconsin. That’s pretty darn good.
Emerson, on Mersch and Dowd joining the Monarchs:
We’re real excited about that. We’ve got obviously a great group down there, a group that’s been together for a few years, a group that’s had a tremendous season. We’re excited that these two players can just step in there and fit in there, and they’ll fit in great because of what we talked about. Mersch will go in there and be a bigger body, and then he’ll start learning the pro game and the way the LA Kings work. It’s going to be great. It’s great for him that he’s been able to finish his season, get the schooling. He’s set to graduate, and now he gets to go and become a pro. Everyone’s all excited. It’s a good time. We’re excited about both players.