March 28 2014 07:00AM
There’s been virtually nothing but praise for Darnell Nurse’s potential as a defenceman, but the key word in that line is "potential."
Listed at 6’4”, 193 pounds, Nurse has the kind of frame every team looks for in its defencemen. He plays like a big man too, with scouts and penalty minute totals alike making it clear he plays an aggressive physical game. Just for good measure, he puts up strong offensive numbers.
But for all of that raw talent, there have been concerns about his overall game. He was omitted from this year’s Canadian World Junior team, with head scout Ryan Jankowski commenting that Nurse was one of the team’s “difficult decisions” but that “the thing to remember is that it's not an all-star team.”
It was a much-criticized decision, particularly after Canada disappointed in the tournament, but it’s always difficult to evaluate defencemen from afar to know exactly what the Canadian management group was seeing on the ice.
There have been some interesting comments made in recent days about the player that are suggestive, though.
Here’s Neate Sager, who covers junior hockey for Yahoo!:
What's been the Soo's X factors in regaining home-ice advantage? Two things — having the uniquely skilled Darnell Nurse on defence and a careful approach to finding older forwards to take on the unsung but vital role of being complementary scorers. Nurse has had five points during the Soo's two wins, giving the Edmonton Oilers first-rounder his first back-to-back multi-point outings all season. Please don't try to make a post-hoc argument that this proves he should have been on Team Canada over, say, Owen Sound's Chris Bigras, since it deprives Nurse of credit for the improvements he's made in the past three months.
Nurse himself talked to Bob Stauffer of Oilers Now on Thursday (the audio is here), and Sager’s comment meshes nicely with the player’s answer on a question about improvements he’s made this season:
Probably the biggest thing going into this season that I wanted to work on was my defensive play and knowing the right time to go and the right time to stay back, and it’s really been night and day from the beginning of the season to now.
Nurse also said he couldn’t really think of a week he went through without the Oilers being in contact with him, letting him know what they wanted him to work on. Based on Sault St. Marie general manager Kyle Dubas’ comments to the Hamilton Spectator back in January – for those who don’t want to read the whole thing, he said that Edmonton wanted Nurse to work on protecting the centre of the ice more – Nurse’s junior team has also been reasonably dialed into the process.
It’s a double-edged sword, because on the one hand massive improvement is good news, but on the other hand it means the starting point was far enough back that the massive improvement was necessary in the first place.
Given Nurse’s age that’s understandable (he’s two years younger than Jurassic Park) but it’s a good reminder on just how long the road is from ‘seventh overall pick’ to ‘the savior Edmonton’s blue line clearly needs.’