Steady veteran Jon Merrill wants to help turn around Red Wings

Detroit News

Ted Kulfan | The Detroit News

For the past three seasons, Jon Merrill went to the Stanley Cup Finals and had two other playoff runs while playing with the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.

Winning became part of the culture quickly in the Vegas organization.

The Grand Blanc native signed with the Wings last summer as an unrestricted free agent and Merrill understood what he was getting into — a Wings organization that was rebuilding and coming off a historically poor season.

The start of this season has only been marginally better, which has made for a adjustment for the veteran defenseman.

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“It’s frustrating to lose,” Merrill said after Wednesday’s practice in Nashville. “We’re all competitive athletes, so to lose, it’s never easy, regardless if you come from a winning team before or not. Nobody likes to lose.

“It’s definitely something we’re trying to get rid of and get things going in the right direction and string some wins together.”

Merrill, 29, signed a one-year contract worth $925,000, as general manager Steve Yzerman attempted to upgrade the Wings with quality veterans who could guide a younger roster along.

Merrill, who played collegiately at Michigan, was thrilled with the opportunity to return home.

So far, Merrill, has shown to be a positive addition, and proving to be a professional example on and off the ice for coach Jeff Blashill

Merrill missed six games being on COVID-19 protocol, but has two assists in eight games, with a plus-2 plus-minus rating, and has provided a calmness any team needs.

“Jon Merrill is a big piece; he’s come in and done a real good job on our defense core,” Blashill said. “He’s a really calm person, and his calmness has helped our team. He has a quiet confidence to him and his play is solid. He’s a guy who, and it was almost a knock against him early (in Merrill’s career), that he didn’t do anything great but did everything pretty well.

“But that’s what you like out of your defensemen, to do all things pretty well and he does that. He helps our penalty kill, power play, 5-on-5 in different roles, he’s there at the end of games because he’s a big guy who has poise and confidence with the puck, and when he makes a mistake it doesn’t fluster him and that’s an important lesson for the rest of our team.”

Tuesday’s 2-1 loss in Florida was the Wings’ third consecutive game in which they’ve had a defensive effort worthy of a win — but lack of offense has won them only one of the three games.

Merrill believes the Wings are close to putting everything together.

“We’ve got to find a way to win some of those games,” Merrill said. “We did a good job (Tuesday), we had chances to tie that game up late, and we’ve got to find a way to get that done.

“When that happens once or twice, it’s going to build our confidence. We’re definitely not satisfied, but we’re going in the right direction. Play the right way and we just have to be consistent with the effort and the results will follow.”

The way the Wings have played defensively over the last week, Merrill said, could be the formation of the identity this lineup has.

“We’re trying to find out who we are as a group,” Merrill said. “We understand we’re not going to out-skill many teams in this league and go out and win games 6-5 like you’re seeing some of the scores out there. We have to be a team that will have to win 3-2 or 2-1, so we’ve got great goaltending, and that’s where it starts and we know what we have to do, eliminate the chances we’re giving up, and we’ve done a decent job of that.

“We’re not satisfied with the results. We’re frustrated with the losses, but we’ll continue to build defensively and that’s something any good team is, the backbone of their identity is sound defense and that’s what we’re trying to build and continue to get better at.”

Red Wings at Predators

Faceoff: 8 p.m. Thursday, Bridgestone Arena, Nashville

TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit-plus/97.1 FM

Outlook:  The Red Wings (3-9-2) and Nashville (5-8-0) open a two-game series. …The Predators are struggling, losing three consecutive games and seven of their last 10. … Nashville ranks 22nd on the power play and last on the penalty kill. … LW Filip Forsberg (six goals, five assists) leads offensively.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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