First Impressions

Jonathan Willis
September 19 2013 11:08AM

With Darnell Nurse serving notice in yesterday’s pre-season game that he isn’t about to go quietly into the night, with Jesse Joensuu crashing the net and scoring goals, and with new head coach Dallas Eakins making all kinds of sense, it should be easy for Oilers fans to be optimistic about the pre-season, despite a less-than-stellar record so far.

That’s good. September should be about optimism; the hope that this new guy is going to excel and this young prospect is something special and this old guy can bounce back.

Nurse

I’m going to quote two of my favourite writers here on last night’s game.

Lowetide: “He looked like a young Larry Robinson last night: gangly and all arms and legs, but lethal when the puck is dropped. Frankly, I think there’s a non-zero chance he makes the team.”

Bruce McCurdy:

Wow. My game notes relevant to Nurse say: “Rush on backhand side, very nice! … 74 starts breakaway play with crisp pass to 83 … good hard board work to clear zone … wins another board battle … 74 beats both Sedins! clears zone … high end puck handling … stones Henrik on 2-on-1 … good defensive stop, agile … breaks up play before it starts, in neutral zone”. Meanwhile, the Event Summary reveals how active his night was, with 5 attempted shots, 3 hits, 4 blocked shots, and, remarkably, 4 takeaways. (That’s an unreliable stat to say the least, but one almost never sees a “4″ in that column, at least not under “Oilers”.) Not a negative stat to be seen in the form of a giveaway, a penalty, a minus. For all the positive plays, Nurse’s inexperience showed a time or two; he “got away” with a couple of iffy situations largely due to his own athleticism, which is impressive to say the least.

And then there’s the head coach: “He was on the war path. I thought he played one hell of a game and that looks like a real solid pick.”

That’s all good – but it would almost certainly be a poor decision to keep Nurse on the roster. He needs the minutes in junior, even the best defencemen rarely play in the NHL at Nurse’s age, the Oilers are already loaded to the gills with defencemen, and so on. Also, perhaps importantly: we know young defenceman have ups and downs (if we didn’t, Justin Schultz sure taught us last year) and two weeks ago Nurse was looking athletic but very, very, very raw playing against nobodies in Penticton. The pendulum swung the other way last night, but it will likely swing back. Another solid year in junior will be good for him, but it seems increasingly likely that he’ll be on the team next year.

Joensuu

The New York Islanders gave up on this guy, and whenever I hear about a big guy who can play I have flashbacks to Pat Quinn explaining why Jean-Francois Jacques was going on the first line. With that out of the way, he’s been impressive – I thought Brian Sutherby nailed it yesterday:

When he had the puck however he still looked very strong, and created a couple quality scoring opportunities. He is a huge frame that looks like he is more than able to keep up with the play and to date has given opposing teams fits down low. Size is obviously something this forward group desperately needs. It will be interesting to watch him as preseason goes on when more veterans draw into lineups.

Yes, it’s early and we’ll see, but so far so good.

Eakins

There hasn’t been this much buzz about an Oilers head coach since Pat Quinn led the coaching dream team!

That’s not remotely a shot at Eakins – every time he opens his mouth he says smart things and I think there’s a pretty good chance that he was exactly the guy the Oilers needed to hire for the job. I also can’t help admiring a rookie NHL coach with the chutzpah to redo the dressing room, take away reporters’ donuts, and show a little personality. Particularly when that personality largely consists of grim-faced statements of grim determination.

The point is that however impressive a coach seems, the proof is in the long-term results. The Oilers started 6-2-1 under Pat Quinn, with a high shooting percentage masking a team with terrible problems. Meanwhile, it turns out that Quinn wanted to send Gagner to the AHL so that Rob Schremp wouldn’t need to go on waivers. Ralph Krueger last year came with a unique resume and an extremely impressive attitude; unfortunately in a year where everything (shortened schedule, short camp, missing a coach) was lined up against him he significantly under-delivered.

I think Eakins is different, but I have to allow for the possibility that I'm wrong.

Recently around the Nation Network

First, a quick reminder: StreakCred is free for the pre-season - sign up to win not only real money but also something far more valuable: NationGear. 

After hoping to ink a long-term deal with the Maple Leafs, Cody Franson has realized that isn't going to happen. From Cam Charron of Leafs Nation:

Franson is resigned to a shorter-term contract. There's some speculation as to why Franson never filed for arbitration this summer and it's become accepted that it's because he didn't want to risk playing on another one-year deal. Frankly, he's a player that has paid his dues and deserves a bit of stability, so I don't hold it against him for holding out.

Click the link above to read more, or feel free to check out some of my recent stuff below:

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 brian_d
September 19 2013, 01:33PM
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master of my domain wrote:

I live in Vancouver and apparently the sky is falling today. what a great day to proudly (smugly) wear my Oilers gear around town.

I know it's only one meaningless preseason game, but they don't seam to.

Surrey, here. It was a blast listening to the TEAM 1040 yesterday/today and hearing the panic button being mashed.

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#52 KJ
September 19 2013, 01:33PM
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@brian_d

Was relieved to see Hall win his first two draws (against Sedin) and play the position well in the first. By my eye, they are playing F1,F2,F3 in the D-zone (as opposed to positions). Either that or Hall was confused as he was occasionally playing the wing position by the points.

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#53 Matt Henderson
September 19 2013, 01:42PM
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The Pietrangelo model is the one I like. Slow and steady wins the race. Play him some NHL games even, I dont mind at all. (if he still earns them by Oct 1)

Back to Jr this year after a healthy dose of NHL then MAYBE fulltime duties as early as next year (if he earns it). This kid is a beauty.

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#54 StHenriOilBomb
September 19 2013, 01:51PM
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Bucknuck wrote:

It's funny. I would have thought that the Oilers were bad enough all on their own without embellishing.

Sorry to tell you guys this, but the Oil haven't finished 26th ever.

The saga of pain goes like this:

2007: 25th

2008: 19th

2009: 21st

2010: 30th

2011: 30th

2012: 29th

2013: 24th

Nice. I should have thought about it, but I was too eager to make a joke at Ballet's expense.

Thanks for pointing that out.

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#55 tileguy
September 19 2013, 02:46PM
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Speaking of Sportsnet, I hope they trash that picture in picture of the player leaving the penalty box. It covered up Marincin leaving the box and I'm still wondering why he didn't have a clear cut breakwawy.

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#56 Maverick007
September 19 2013, 03:51PM
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@Czar

I bet he still gives him the job cause he sees his compete level.

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#57 Dog Train
September 19 2013, 08:23PM
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Nurse was extremely impressive last night but no way do I play him in the NHL this season, at least not past his 10 game audition period. He still needs to fill out his frame and depth on D is not a problem this season. He will be a stud in time but there is no need to rush yet another rookie.

I have a soft spot for big Finns, therefore I am pulling for JJ.

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