The more I get into projections for next year’s team, the more Ontario province shines for the Oilers—now and in the future. Connor McDavid’s place on the opening night roster is a given—based on NHL history going back to my childhood—he’s a teenage stone alone with the only similar gem in memory discovered 10 years ago.
Darnell Nurse is easy to overlook, we’ve been aware of him for over two years now and watched his progress in three different leagues. The value of defensemen is measured by more than the boxcar numbers that pass across our view, and in the case of Darnell Nurse the offensive and defensive package at 20, as he enters the NHL, are substantial.
- D Darnell Nurse. A man among boys, he swatted away opponents like flies. I would guess 95% of the falling came as a result of Nurse simply overwhelming players. Had some good battles, too. So mobile. Source
I watched Nurse at the orientation camp two weeks ago and was struck by how mature he is compared to players much younger (and a few who are older). Nurse is special compared to all of the young defensemen who have seen these parts in recent history, because he possesses the complete skill set. Fast as lightning, intelligent, good at reading and reacting, and very good at making sure opponents end up in a heap. His offensive game projects very well. I’ve seen Nurse battle (including a very famous exchange with Alexander Dergachyov at the gold medal WJ game) and we know he was facing tough opposition two years ago:
- SSM GM Kyle Dubas, about 2013-14: “People get obsessed with Darnell’s plus/minus (plus-1, down from plus-15 the year prior), but his underlying numbers are excellent. Relative to the competition he plays [against], he does extremely well. Far greater than 50 percent of the time, the puck is not in our end. To me, it doesn’t get much bigger than that. If we’re taking the other team’s best players and forcing them to play in their end and away from the puck, that’s a successful day. The quality of competition he’s faced is higher than anyone else in our league, especially among defencemen.” Source
I wrote in June, before the draft, don’t think Nurse spends much if any time in Bakersfield, California. The Oilers would need to add two legit pieces in order for anyone to reasonably argue that Nurse was the No. 7 option for the club. I suspect he’ll be third pairing opening night LH side for the Oilers and maybe that’s where we should start the conversation.
Haven’t changed my mind. Third pairing, where he belongs until ready to move up the depth chart. The Oilers have a buyout window this weekend and if they proceed with one and follow with signing Christian Ehrhoff, then I’ll absolutely agree that Nurse should and will play in Bakersfield this season. I don’t see it happening, honestly.
It seems to me Darnell Nurse will do at 20 what Jordan Eberle did at the same age: Make his NHL team, establish himself as a bona fide NHL player and move up the depth chart before season’s end. We have our top four defenseman and his name is Darnell Nurse. A man at 20, he’ll be in the NHL in 2015-16. Todd McLellan simply won’t let him go.
I believe this to be true.