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Top 25 Under 25: #8 - Darnell Nurse

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Burly defenceman clocks in at #8 in our Top 25 Under 25

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Edmonton Oilers at San Jose Sharks
Washin’ the windows
John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t often get to use the word ‘burly’, but today was an exception.

Let’s see how the big board had him.

Shona Corey Derek Patrick Matt Scott Jeff
9 14 7 7 8 8 9

Everyone had him in the 7-8-9 range save for Corey, who had him in left field.

Selected seventh overall in one of the drafts that the Oilers didn’t select number one (2013), the Hamilton, Ontario native stands an imposing 6’4” and checks in at 220 pounds. He had an impressive junior career with the Soo Greyhounds, and his selection was met with high praise from Hockey’s Future.

Darnell Nurse is a big, mobile, gifted blueliner who has a lot of Chris Pronger in his game. He’s an imposing presence on the blueline and has the tools to be successful at both ends. Beyond the bloodlines and support (aunt, father, mother are all elite athletes -- uncle by marriage is Donovan McNabb), Nurse has it where it counts most -- between the ears. He was a leader during his junior career, playing a key role in Sault Ste. Marie's turnaround from a non-playoff team to a championship contender. Nurse continues to add strength and bulk to his ideal NHL frame. He is capable of playing in all situations and can log big minutes

All situations? Big minutes? Chris Pronger without the trade request? Sign me right up.

Appearing for a cup of coffee in 2014-15, Darnell Nurse became a regular with the Oilers the following season. He played in 69 games, he tallied ten points, and he took sixty penalty minutes. The Oilers weren’t much in their own end that year, though Nurse did get plenty of ice time to feel out his game.

An ankle injury kept Nurse on the sidelines for 35 games in 2016-17. Nurse appeared in just 44 games, and he’ll no doubt look for an injury free 2017-18.

It’s fair to suggest that Nurse’s physical play is something that management is encouraged by.

THE BIG QUESTION

Can Darnell Nurse become a top 4 defenceman for the Edmonton Oilers?

The short answer: maybe.

A couple of bullets:

  • Nurse is a regular on this team’s blueline right now. Barring anything wacky over the next month or two, he’s going to be the third guy on the left side behind Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell. When Andrej Sekera comes back from his injury, the Oilers are likely going to do something cute like move Kris Russell to the right side so Russell can block shots over there.
  • Coming off an ankle injury did him absolutely no favours in the middle of his second season. Nurse was on ice for a significant amount of shots (and subsequently, goals) against, averaging the most among regulars on the Oilers defence. How much of this is due to his injury? I think it’s fair to suggest a bit.
  • This will absolutely need to be the year where Nurse makes the case that he can be a top four defenceman down the road. A healthy Nurse will put him well over the 200 game mark, and it will be important for him to show the Oilers that he can be counted on in his own end with the puck. If he can do that, maybe they’ll hide Kris Russell under a rug somewhere.
  • OPTIMISM: Nurse is 22 and will hopefully get a full season under his belt in 2017-18. It’s going to be a giant season as far as how the club sees his worth. He’s in a contract year, and things will no doubt get interesting as the Oilers try to fill in as many roster spots on a shoestring budget before 97’s deal takes effect.