How many complete defensemen have skated in an Oilers uniform since 1979? Seriously. I’m not talking about great defensemen or big hitters or powerful shooters, I’m talking complete defensemen. Chris Pronger? You bet. After that, we can make a list and check it twice but this is not a long list, not as impressive as (say) the Boston Bruins of my lifetime.
A complete defenseman is (my definition) able to play successfully in all three disciplines, bring a physical element while also being able to play a two-way game. In the olden days the guy could fight but that’s not necessary anymore. I don’t believe blocking shots is a value tool (it’s more a reflection of poor possession) so we’ll excuse that requirement, too.
My conversation with Corey Pronman yesterday had some fascinating aspects, including his assertion that Nurse has a wide range to his game.
- Pronman: “I think Nurse has a little more of a dynamic element to his game. Nurse’s skating is a little bit better and they both project as good defensive players, I think Nurse can bring a little more offense to the NHL.”
EVEN STRENGTH AT 17
At 17, the two players look similar (this is via CHLStats.com) during the even-strength portion of games. The points-per-60 estimate is a cool element and shows the two marching in lock step at this age. Nurse’s EV IPP is 0.37, Reinhart’s is 0.32—they look pretty close at evens during their draft seasons.
EVEN STRENGTH AT 19
At 19, Nurse is creating more offense across the board (although I’m not sure if the estimated time-on-ice machine can accurately estimate some of these 19-year-old ‘men in junior’ blue). Nurse’s EV IPP is 0.45, Reinhart’s is 0.38—Nurse has increased the gap a little, remains the more likely ‘complete’ bet.
Both men have seen their share of power-play time in junior but it’s a difficult projection into pro for either player. Honestly, most amateur defenders don’t make the grade as PP contributors and leave much of their offense behind them. Why? As young blue, they’re probably behind a more established veteran and the skills they owned in junior or college fade away or are not utilized.
- Griffin Reinhart at 17: 58GP, 5-12-17 .293 power play points per game
- Darnell Nurse at 17: 68GP, 2-10-12 .176 power play points per game
- Griffin Reinhart at 19: 45GP, 2-5-7 .155 power play points per game
- Darnell Nurse at 19: 36GP, 3-8-11 .306 power play points per game
Reinhart played an extreme shutdown role on the Memorial Cup team (he was 19) and for me that’s a big part of the dip—the Oil Kings had an unreal junior defense and deployed the group in the most effective way available. However, that also offers us a hint about future roles for Reinhart and his usage in the NHL. It’s worth noting the men getting PP time ahead of Reinhart were not top flight NHL prospects. In his draft season, Martin Gernat got the power-play push, in his final year it was Cody Corbett.
Nurse was a different story on the power play. In his 17-year-old draft year, Nurse was on a team that boasted both Ryan Sproul and Colin Miller—substantial offensive players. In his final season, Anthony DeAngelo was acquired and romped with the man advantage.
I’m not sure either player will have a long NHL career on the power play and in this area both men may fall shy of being complete players.
- Peter Chiarelli talks about Nurse: “His game has got a lot more structure and he’s really come a long way from what I’ve seen. I really like his compete and we’re trying to build from the back end a bit in Edmonton and he’s a good fit with us right now.” Source
- Peter Chiarelli talks about Reinhart: “I expect him to be in the opening day roster. His size, his strength, his head, his sense, his skating—despite what people say—is what we want in a big anchor defenceman. This kid’s a player, so he’s going to find his way. When? Hopefully sooner than later.”
I agree with Pronman, for me Nurse is a little higher end offensively and his speed makes him a more attractive prospect—but, as Pronman said on the Lowdown yesterday, the gap isn’t a massive one.
- Pronman on Reinhart: “He’s high-end defensively, and average offensively, which is still a pretty good player. He performed well versus men this season in the AHL and could make the Oilers very soon.”
- Pronman on Nurse: “He is a gifted physical player who has all the natural tools a scout could want from a defenseman. He has slowly begun to emerge as a two-way player, but his value comes from his high-end work in his own end.”
I believe they’re both quality prospects and should (along with Oscar Klefbom) solve the defensive problem LH side for a decade if the Oilers keep the pair. I also think (and have stated before) it’s a stretch to expect either man to become a big offensive option.
I’ll place the line in the sand (total points in a season, outer marker) at 40 points for Nurse and 30 for Reinhart and would be delighted if they achieve or pass those numbers. The big part of their value is in playing defense, getting the puck headed north, and sealing out oncoming sorties. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the past decade, sending also-rans, never were’s and fading legends into the breach is a ghastly option.
We wait, secure in the knowledge better days ahead. Strange feeling, no?