During the past 48 hours, as crazy trade rumors surrounding Travis Hamonic have arisen, a name that has been used as a potentially interesting target for the Islanders is Darnell Nurse. Would I make that deal? Never, and this is why:
Darnell Nurse this summer was a little overshadowed (tough for a guy who could dunk on Shaq) by the lottery win, and the eventual drafting of a pretty good prospect named Connor. With that being said, Darnell was a player who I was incredibly excited to see suit up for the Oilers.
His first game did not come until game 9 of the season for the Oilers, but he already looks like a top 6 option and has been steadily playing his way into the top 4. This is where I hear that the rest of the Oilers defence is so bad that Corey Cross (*spits) could look like a Top 4 defenceman. Trust me, I know the Oilers have struggled to ice an elite/competent/ group of defenceman in the past 7 years, but this kid has truly earned the praise. All in all, his game has changed gears in his first 10 games.
Aside from the ability to grow a beast of a beard, Nurse has shown the ability to show composure under pressure. He has averaged 19:11 of TOI, and has averaged more than 20:00 in 5 games. Coach Mclellan isn't afraid to sit men if they are struggling, but Nurse has been a constant on the blue line since he arrived from Bakersfield. He has reinforced that his true value, since the day he was drafted, is seen in his ability to get the puck out of the defensive zone, and play a solid, and nasty defensive game.
Red Line Report said this on his draft day:
"Has huge upside. Big and strong with great upper body strength despite still being a beanpole. Wait until he adds a few pounds to that hulking 6'5" frame. He's just miserable to play against now: throws opponents around with authority and plays a mean, nasty game. Throws big hits both along the boards and in open ice. Has a very long stride and reach with good lateral movement. Plays a positional steady game in own end. Strong penalty killer who uses his body/stick to eliminate shooting and passing lanes. Cleans men out in front of net. Clears rebounds and ties up his check preventing second chances. Can be a dominant force and top pairing shutdown defender. Offensive game emerged in 2nd half. Started moving up into the rush decisively, showing good timing and instincts. Makes a good first pass and skates with his head up, looking to make plays. Also shows recovery speed."
It's early, but it appears that these skills have started to translate at the NHL level. Darnell has started 54.3% of his zone starts in the defensive zone. Despite this, and the constant rotation of defence partners, he has posted a CF% of 48.9%. That isn't jaw-droppingly good, but take into account that this is still a rookie with less than 20 NHL games, his % of defensive zone starts are only 2nd on the team to Justin Schultz. His 21 hits are 4th on the team, but he has proven that he doesn't allow his affinity for a bit of nastiness to force him to take bad penalties (Only 2 PIM on the season.
This doesn't even take into account the pleasant surprise of his offence. He is scoring at a .5 point per game clip, and no doubt that will regress back to a more reasonable mean. We shouldn't discount though, that he has a bomb of a shot (Devin Dubnyk is still looking for that one), and he has tremendous speed to join the rush. If Nurse is handed a defensive d-partner, we could see him start to jump into the rush more often, and that isn't a bad thing as his frame will allow him to exert himself on opposing defenders.
This is a brief review of what we have seen in Darnell's first 10 games this season. He has had his share of mistakes but if you were to ask me who are the Oilers top 6 d-men that give them the best chance to win, I would have to say that Nurse is in that group. I pray he can keep it up, and I wouldn't be surprised if we are talking about him as a top 4 mainstay by seasons end.
What are your thoughts on the young man?