(photo via tsn.ca)
The Oilers have a a pretty interesting scenario developing around Darnell Nurse and their group of defensemen for the upcoming season.
The 21 year old was brought up last season after the Oilers blueline suffered from injuries and although he showed glimpses of top-4 caliber play, for the most part, he was playing over his head.
Peter Chiarelli, Todd McLellan and the rest of the Oilers staff have a pretty complex scenario in front of them in terms of where Nurse should start next season. Here’s how I’m looking at it:
WHAT WE KNOW
Darnell Nurse played the second most total minutes of any Oilers defender last year, averaging just over 20 minutes a night, which is remarkable for a 20 year old in today’s NHL. What’s not remarkable are the numbers that come after that.
Darnell defended and produced offense like a 3rd pairing d-man and if you watched him for any period of time last year you could tell he always seemed a step behind, both figuratively and literally. He struggled to move and think at an NHL pace.
Another fact on Darnell is that most of the partners he had were better when he wasn’t on the ice.
Take a look at his numbers with Andrej Sekera, who he spent 392 of his 1395 minutes with. Keep in mind, Sekera was playing his off-side when with Nurse, which is another issue altogether.
|Sekera With||Sekera Without|
|Corsi For %||44.1%||50.6%|
|Goals For %||40.0%||44.3%|
Those are pretty basic numbers, but sometimes those basic numbers can be very telling, it was hard to find a teammate who improved when playing with Darnell Nurse.
He also isn’t a specialty player, he won’t make this team because he’s a rock on the penalty kill or has the ability to anchor a power play.
With all that said, the Oiler’s have two options, both of which have repercussions or involve another move being made.
OPTION 1: DARNELL IN EDMONTON
This option likely means that Chiarelli did not sign a right shot defender to play this season.
This option also means that one of Brandon Davidson or Andrej Sekera will have to play their off side, something both d-men have shown they aren’t very comfortable with.
If Nurse is with the big club, it would leave their depth chart looking like this:
|Oscar Klefbom||Adam Larsson|
|Brandon Davidson||Andrej Sekera|
|Darnell Nurse||Mark Fayne|
In this scenario, Nurse would likely be playing somewhere between 12 and 15 minutes a night on the 3rd pair and probably wouldn’t see very many special teams minutes.
This is NOT the option i would be taking for a variety of reasons:
First off, if the end goal with Darnell Nurse is for him to be a top-2 d-man who can SUCCEED while playing 22-25 minutes a night against the other team’s best players, then in my opinion, it makes no sense to have him be buried on the third line playing a smaller role.
Sending him down to BAK would allow him to play 22-25 minutes a night in scenarios where he isn’t overwhelmed and can properly develop his skill set. Like I said, the goal is to make him a top-2 defensemen, so that’s how they should develop him.
The only positive to Nurse staying up is that it eliminates the need for another RS d-man which are very scarce right now. The only realistic options left on the free agent market are Dan Boyle and David Rundblad.
OPTION 2: NURSE DOWN
This option works a lot better if Chiarelli is able to bring in another NHL calibre right shot defender. If he did, the depth chart would essentially look like this.
|Oscar Klefbom||Adam Larsson|
|Andrej Sekera||NEW ADDITION|
|Brandon Davidson||Mark Fayne|
This would allow Davidson and Sekera to both play on the left side, where they have shown they are more comfortable and successful. Thats a big one for me personally.
As I mentioned earlier this would allow Nurse to properly develop into the top 2 or 3 d-man you want him to be in a few years, instead of continuing to make him play above his head like he had to last year, and the numbers definitely support the fact that he couldn’t handle the workload and assignments he was given.
Going to Bakersfield will allow him to slow down his game a little and focus on the little moves and decisions that are crucial to being an impact defender in the NHL.
Darnell Nurse being in the AHL can only result in positives for his development as a player and will help solidify the Oilers d-core during the years they want to be competing for a Stanley Cup (2017/2018 and beyond).
WITH THAT BEING SAID
If Darnell Nurse shows up at camp this year and has really matured his game over the summer, then by all means he deserves to play on this team come October. The only thing really going against Nurse is that even if he outperforms the likes of Brandon Davidson in camp, I still believe he should be sent down due to the fact that Nurse doesn’t need waivers to go back and forth between Bakersfield, while Davidson does.
The other thing that’s crucial here is that injuries will certainly happen this year, just as they do every year. So putting Nurse in the AHL to start the season doesn’t mean he can’t come back up in a month or two if a spot opens up. Or if he is blowing the doors off the AHL and has deserved a chance to play in the NHL again, they could very easily bring him back up. Like I said, he doesn’t need waivers so the only cost to bringing him up and down is his plane ticket.
The only way Nurses development is hurt is if he is given a spot via default as he did last season.
This is just another storyline to follow as training camp creeps up on Oil Country and they enter a crucial season in their development as a team.