These seasons in the wilderness are spent yearning for the things not available, beginning with a true stud defenseman. When the Edmonton Oilers drafted Darnell Nurse in 2013, they committed themselves to the player, and the player responded by working hard and earning an NHL shot as a teenager. The future appears bright, but when will it arrive?
PREVIOUSLY NUMBER TWO ON THE WINTER LIST
- December 2004: G Jeff Deslauriers
- December 2005: C Marc-Antoine Pouliot
- December 2006: C Rob Schremp
- December 2007: C Andrew Cogliano
- December 2008: R Jordan Eberle
- December 2009: R Jordan Eberle
- December 2010: R Jordan Eberle
- December 2011: C Anton Lander
- December 2012: D Justin Schultz
- December 2013: D Oscar Klefbom
As with the No. 1’s over the last decade, the quality improved mid-to-late in the decade and we’ve seen real quality at this point each season. Men like Cogliano and Eberle are bona fide NHL players, with Schultz, Klefbom and (now) Nurse next in line. The Oilers Top 20 may not be at 2010 levels, but this is a quality player at number two on the list.
WHAT THEY SAID ON DRAFT DAY
- Kyle Woodlief — USA Today: is the most naturally physical defender available. He made good strides in his offensive game and has a heavy shot that is an asset on the power play. He likes to dish out punishment along the walls and easily separates his check from the puck. Nurse also scores off the charts in both his character and intelligence levels, and at a gangly 6-5, already has the footwork of a much smaller man.
- Corey Pronman — Hockey Prospectus: Nurse had a considerable amount of hype at the beginning of the season, and he has exceeded all expectations. 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. Nurse is a tall defender with an aggressive edge and the strength to consistently push his checks off pucks. He has above-average mobility, especially considering his larger size.
- OHL PROSPECTS: Nurse is definitely my top prospect available from the OHL. The thing I like most about Nurse is how much he improved this season from the last. You need to look at that progression and think about just how good he could be, if he continues to tap into his athletic bloodlines (father was a CFL player), and continues to improve. He’s certainly a potential dynamo at both ends of the ice. His size (6’5, pushing 200lbs), makes him an asset in the defensive end. As does his skating ability. He’s incredibly difficult to get around and he’s physical enough to intimidate. As he gets stronger, I expect his physical game to become more consistent and more effective. He certainly has the mentality to be a bruiser.
- Craig MacTavish: “He gives us an element we’re sorely lacking. He’s a guy who, over time, if we’re patient with him, is going to provide us with toughness. He’s a guy that will ride shotgun for a lot of our first overall picks and our skilled players for a lot of years. But our overriding draft philosophy is still to draft the player who is going to have the greatest impact on our team over time. Based on that philosophy, I still thought Darnell was the player who is going to have the greatest impact on our team.”
- BOB MCKENZIE, TSN: NO. 9
- RED LINE REPORT: NO. 8
- CRAIG BUTTON: NO. 8
- ISS: NO. 6
DARNELL NURSE TOP 20 RANKINGS
- Summer 2013: No. 1
- Winter 2013: No. 1
- Summer 2014: No. 2
- Winter 2014: No. 2
OFFENSE, BY DISCIPLINE
|DARNELL NURSE 2012-13||68, 10-17-27(.397)||68, 2-10-12 (.176)||68, 0-2-2||68, 12-29-41 (0.60)|
|DARNELL NURSE 2013-14||64, 6-15-21 (.328)||64, 6-21-27 (.422)||64, 1-1-2||64, 13-37-50 (.781)|
|DARNELL NURSE 2014-15||8, 0-6-6 (.750)||8, 2-2-4 (.500)||8, 0-0-0||8, 2-8-10 (1.25)|
In 2013-14, Nurse’s offense increased overall and his power-play numbers spiked handsomely. It’s important for us to remember that young defenders rarely get heavy 5×4 minutes and that’s very likely for Nurse when he arrives in the NHL. This season, we don’t have enough of a sample size to draw many conclusions beyond he’s posted some nice numbers.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING NOW
- Michael Parkatti: “All you can really ask of your prospects is that they progress. I think it’s pretty obvious he progressed year over year. It’s probably a function of the opportunity he was given, he was playing behind some older players during his draft season. It’s good to see that he performed pretty well when given the chance. In terms of his chances, you have to look at the depth chart and think he has a shot here.”
- SSM GM Kyle Dubas: “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.
- Ryan Dittrick: Averaging more than 27 minutes per game against the opposition’s best players, “with no exceptions,” night after night in all situations? “That’s Darnell,” Dubas says. “There are no shifts off.” He’s been a force, an absolute brute on the Soo blueline.
- Darnell Nurse: “If I come in ready and play myself into a spot they’re not going to take it away from me.”
- Bob McKenzie, TSN: It’s expected Darnell Nurse will be on EDM’s season opening 23-man roster. What happens beyond first week will depend on performance.
- Dallas Eakins on Nurse making his NHL debut: “It’s hard sticking your toe in the water (as a rookie), but Darnell has put on a ton of strength over the summer and his game has come a long way. What better challenge than the Kings. It’ll be good for him to see what it’s all about and he’s a highly-motivated kid. I expect a lot of passion from Darnell.”
- Darnell Nurse on making his NHL debut: “I’m just going out there to live my dream. They’re a great team obviously but I can’t be out there in awe. No matter who it was, I’d be nervous. But I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited. I know I’m capable of playing at this level, and there’s a bit of chemistry with Justin from playing with him in the pre-season. I’m going to play a steady game and he can handle the offensive part of it.”
- Dallas Eakins on Nurse being sent back to junior: “The kid couldn’t do anymore. He played as well as he could but this is what’s best for him and what’s best for our organization in the long run. The best thing for him is to play against his peers right now.”
- SSM Greyhounds Coach Sheldon Keefe: “So there’s a lot of work for him to put in as well, so we’ll be here to help him through that whole process of looking to make the (Canadian) World Junior Team, and the NHL as well.”
DARNELL NURSE 14-15 (OILERS)
5×5 points per 60: nil
5×4 points per 60: nil
Qual Comp: 6th toughest
Qual Team: 6th best
Corsi Rel: 9.3
Corsi for % 5×5: 56.4
Zone Start: 78.6% (easiest among defensemen)
Shots on goal/percentage: 2 shots
Boxcars: 2GP, 0-0-0
DARNELL NURSE WOWY
Nurse played only two regular season games (16:59 TOI times 2) and his top partner was Justin Schultz. I think the Oilers (rightly) view Nurse as a possible top-pairing blue during the peak of his career, but playing alongside Schultz is a difficult thing to do. He performed well against tough opposition and I think it’s a good thing the organization got him a cup of coffee. Knowing the gap, and how far away the NHL is, can be good for young players.
Based on his skating, size, and mean streak, I think we’re looking at a top drawer defensive prospect and someone who stands a good chance of making the big team in October 2015. I don’t see him as a power-play monster but he’s so strong and long (with terrific speed) it’s possible he plays well over 20 minutes a night anyway. If Nurse can stay away from injury, and learns the finer points of the NHL game, I suspect he’ll have a long and productive career.
THE 2013 NHL DRAFT
- Darnell Nurse, No. 7 overall. Good arrows, already played 2 NHL games. A bright future ahead. Inside the Top 20.
- Marco Roy, No. 59 overall. Injuries have impacted him since draft day. Inside the Top 20.
- Bogdan Yakimov, No. 83 overall. Mammoth Russian progressing smartly. Inside the Top 20.
- Anton Slepyshev, No. 88 overall. Slick Russian winger running in place in the KHL. Candidate for winter 20.
- Jackson Houck, No. 94 overall. Enjoying a good season. Candidate for winter 20.
- Kyle Platzer, No. 96 overall. Emerging as a quality NHL prospect this year. Inside the Top 20.
- Aidan Muir, No. 113 overall. Now in college, scoring a little. Candidate for winter 20.
- Evan Campbell, No. 128 overall. Scoring well in college this year. Candidate for winter 20.
- Ben Betker, No. 158 overall. Huge defender continues to progress. Candidate for winter 20.
- Greg Chase, No. 188 overall. Signed a contract, strong camp, weird WHL season so far. Inside the Top 20.
The 2013 draft is tracking very well after Year 1. Two players have made it to the NHL for a cup of coffee and men like Greg Chase and Kyle Platzer have jumped their draft number in the 17 months since draft day.