There has been copious amounts of digital ink wasted discussing the Andrej Sekera injury and what issues it will cause the Oilers at the start of the year. One player in particular has an opportunity to prove he is a top 4 defenseman. Next up in this series of reasonable expectations is Darnell Nurse.
When Nurse was drafted 7th overall in 2013 many pundits believed the Oilers had found their future top pairing player. Comparisons to Pronger were made. Since then many have changed their opinion of him with some questioning his long term NHL future. However despite the fact that he has been in the Oilers organization for the past five years we have only seen him play 115 NHL games. Analysts say it takes a defenseman at least 150 games to develop into the player they are going to be, and barring injury, we will see Nurse reach the 150 mark halfway through this season.
Through his short career so far we have seen flashes of what Nurse brings to the team. He is the second most physical defender on the team next to Larsson but unlike Larsson, Nurse cannot be labeled as a stay at home defender. Nurse is surprisingly agile for his size and one trait that makes him unique is his ability to chip in, in the offensive zone to keep the play alive. Unfortunately that same trait has caused breakaways resulting in goals against the Oilers. I am not a fan of +/- as a stat but Nurse fared worse than Larsson, Klefbom, Russell, and Benning in this category. This is something that should improve simply by playing more games and developing consistency.
I used Hockey Reference Player Finder to take a look at other defensemen similar to Nurse. I looked up left shot defenders 23 or younger since 2010 who have played less than 150 games to see where Nurse landed. Here are a few noteworthy points
- 7th in total goals
- 2nd in EV goals
- 23rd in assists
- 4th in shots
- 6th in penalty minutes
- 7th in TOI
The biggest surprise for me was seeing where Nurse ranks in regards to even strength goals. Nurse has not proven to be a strong offensive force at this point in his career but the fact that at his age he has produced what he has at 5 on 5 is impressive. The Oilers have Klefbom and Benning as their top powerplay options making it even more crucial that Nurse can produce at even strength.
Whether Nurse starts the year on the second pairing with Russel or continues on the third pairing I will not be surprised to see Nurse have a spike in production this year. Very similar to Klefbom last year this is a crucial season for Nurse's development where he must play close to a full season.
Right now I have Nurse at 12-22-34 if he is playing a full 82GP.
The Oilers have great depth on the left side with Klefbom, Sekera, and Nurse and the best thing for this defensive group is for us fans to be arguing who plays top 4 minutes because all of them are viable candidates. This will be the most important season of Darnell's young career and a strong season for him will be a massive boost for this team going forward.
Thanks for reading!