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#6 - Darnell Nurse

Darnell Nurse isn't the Oilers' best prospect, but might be the most important.

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Darnell Nurse just looks like a hockey player, doesn't he? Tall, strong but not stocky, smooth skating, confident with the puck to the point of audacity. Good skater. Truculent. Fears nothing. Big ol' shot. Hits guys until their jaws fall off and mediocre sports writers scribble pablum about how very rough this game's become. He is a proverbial Monster. A monster Nurse. There's a Japanese cartoon in that somewhere.

Nurse shows up on the boxscores while earning fancystats fandom from ex-general manager Kyle Dubas. Over 12 goals per junior season, a good spread between powerplay and even strength, and a pillowcase of assists. Lovely. Tools and numbers: no Eric Brewer he. He's probably going to play for Canada at the World Juniors, if the Oilers spare him, and it's fashionable to sneer at TSN's Christmas showcase but that still means he's one of the best under-20 defensemen in the world.

Yes, the Oilers have a promising one here, haven't they? Call him the least of the top-tier prospects or the best of the second-tier; either way, he's (almost) indisputably the best defensive youngster we've got. Which is why my heart seizes up thinking about what his career represents.

There's an awful lot riding on young Mr. Nurse, isn't there? Out of the Oilers' blue-chippers he's the one who most needs to be a triple, a Chris Pronger rather than a Jason Smith, an apposite simile rather than a metaphor mixed between poker and baseball. This is because he fills one of the most glaring holes in our gang of one-dimensional young forwards: the guy who knows what his own zone looks like. If Nurse does everything he's capable of, all of a sudden the Oilers have a solid spine and maybe, just maybe, cause to hope. But if he turns out to be just another 2/3D type, a replacement for Jeff Petry when we inevitably let him go for nothing...

...god dammit.

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Previous Rank: 5

Nurse drops down one spot for the traditional reason: the Oilers got another high draft pick. Nobody ranked Nurse lower than seventh; nobody ranked him higher than fifth. For all intents and purposes it was unanimous.

Some fans worry that Nurse didn't progress enough in his draft+1 season. Screw that. He was second on his good OHL team in assists, their joint-leading playoff pointgetter, and thirteen goals look good on any defense. Nurse was the undisputed alpha dog on a young, but awfully handy, defensive corps. Sure, his plus-minus dropped. Who cares? It was still on the respectable side of even and you can't read too much into it. Next you'll tell me had too few three star selections, or his Nielson numbers were poor.

Now, an OHL defenseman who's bigger, stronger, and faster than his fellows can sometimes look better than he is. The test comes at the professional level, and it is a test Nurse has barely begun. There is plenty of room for him to disappoint us. (This is a lesson Oilers fans long ago internalized.) But so far, what is he missing? Come on. What's not there? If you say "plus/minus" I am going to Bertuzzi you.

Should Nurse play 2014-15 with the big club? Rasmus Ristolainen, the pick after Nurse in 2013, is off to a half-decent start on the Buffalo Sabres blue. Ristolainen is several months older and has professional experience in Finland, but still. As I've said, no matter where Nurse ranks among the Oilers' best prospects he is maybe their most important. I'd be willing to sacrifice a lot in the name of his development.

I am told that Nurse did not look brilliant in last season's American Hockey League cameo. I am also told that, while he slapped around Owen Sound in the OHL playoffs like they'd spilled his pint, he took an Oilers-style slaughtering against the Erie Otters (-6 with one goal in four games). These indicate that he has not caught up to AHL, let alone NHL, speed. But there's only one way to be ready for that level and that's to play it. We'd love to see Nurse in the A but that's not an option, not this season.

The Oilers have a load of defensemen already penciled into roster slots. But most of them are awful. If we loaded all of them except for Petry and Martin Marincin into a cattle car and sent it to Bovine University, at least we'd be rid of some crappy contracts. But speaking of crappy contracts, giving Nurse an NHL spot would tick away a year of his entry-level contract, a year that could be spent more usefully.

Me, I'm sending Nurse back to junior, because he isn't Bobby Orr and he isn't going to get us into the playoffs. But if the Oilers keep Nurse in the N... would it be that wrong?