Darnell Nurse definitely made an impression in his first NHL camp. His infectious smile and polite demeanor allowed him to fit in off the ice, but it was his on-ice play that impressed his teammates the most. None of the Oilers had ever seen him play before, but his fluid skating stride grabbed their attention the first day of camp.
"He moves incredibly well," Taylor Hall said to me on the second day of training camp. "He’s so smooth for a big man. He’ll be scary when he fills out," continued Hall.
When Hall is impressed by a player’s skating ability, you take notice.
Last Wednesday in Vancouver, Nurse played a dominating 24 minutes vs. the Canucks. He gave management, coaches, teammates and the fans a glimpse of his future potential, and he should go back to Sault Ste. Marie feeling very good about his game.
While Nurse dominated in Vancouver that night, in his other preseason games he was solid. At times he looked his age, and you could see that he’ll need to add some weight to his 6’4" frame, but every game he played he did something that caught your attention.
Even the most pessimistic Oiler fan was impressed by Nurse, and in 12 months I think he’ll be even more impressive.
The Oilers made the right decision to send him to junior. He’ll go back to the OHL, play 25-30 minutes a night, develop his game, improve his strength and he’ll take on more of a leadership role. He’ll be a better player next year, and when he comes to training camp he’ll be focused on making the team.
Prior to the draft I interviewed Nurse, and when I asked him about going straight to the NHL he gave an incredibly honest and mature answer, "I think I need to keep developing my game. There are areas I need to improve on, and I think it would be best for me to play another year in junior."
For Nurse to recognize in the summer that the best thing for him would be another year in junior, shows you why he’ll be successful, but that doesn’t he mean he wasn’t crushed when Eakins told him the news last night.
"If anyone tells you it feels good to get cut, they’re probably lying to you," he said. "It sucks. There’s nothing fun about it but they (Oilers) have the best plan for me and my development. I’m going to go back and dominate my league and hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to play in World Juniors," continued Nurse.
I love his attitude. He’ll use this as motivation to become even better. He’ll make a serious push for the World Junior team and that experience will also help his development.
THIS IS A GOOD THING
There is no negative in sending Nurse back to junior, the only negative out of training camp was that we didn’t get to see him play against a complete NHL team. Every game he playe, the opposition had very few proven NHL players. Regardless, that game in Vancouver gave us all a glimpse of his potential.
He didn’t look out of place, even when the Sedins were on the ice, and the best part was that he didn’t look intimidated at all. You can’t teach confidence, and you can’t teach competitiveness. Nurse has both in abundance, and I can’t wait to see how he looks next September.
THREE MORE CUTS
Tyler Pitlick, Anton Lander and Taylor Fedun were assigned to OKC last night. They will be on the team charter to OKC this morning and all of them will play significant minutes in OKC this season. Fedun continues to improve. He’s an incredibly smart player who rarely makes mistakes. He or Oscar Klefbom will be the first call up, if the Oilers suffer any injuries on the blueline.
Pitlick had the best training camp of his short career. He is close to being an NHL player, and if he can stay healthy this year. and keep improving. he should make a serious push to crack the lineup next season.
Lander wasn’t a factor in training camp. He just never looked comfortable and wasn’t able to stand out in any of the games. If he can get off to a good start and play well, I think there is a good chance he will play some games in Edmonton this season. He needs to be a leader and one of the best players every night in OKC.
***EDIT at 10:00 a.m.***
The Oilers placed Ryan Jones on waivers this morning. If he clears he’ll start the season in OKC. I haven’t seen anything from Ryan Hamilton or Ben Eager that suggests they are better NHL players than Jones, but Jones didn’t have a strong camp and the Oilers do save cap space by keeping Hamilton up and sending Jones down.
Eager brings a completely different element, so I understand why he is here. Hamilton’s footspeed in the preseason was an issue, we’ll see how he looks against NHL lineups. Good for him he worked hard to make the lineup, but I don’t think anyone on the Oilers fourth line is a lock to stay the entire season.
A WELCOME CHANGE
A few things I’ve never understood; how someone thinks Olivia Wilde isn’t hot or why coaches play prevent defence in football or sit back when they have a lead in hockey. The picture answers the first question, and when I’ve watched the Oilers games this season I’ve noticed a refreshing approach when they have a lead. Eakins wants them to keep pushing forward, rather than sitting on a lead. THANK GOODNESS.
I find when I watch games on TV, even worse on the web, that it is hard to see some of the small nuances of the game. The camera only focuses on the puck carrier, so it’s hard to see what players are doing away from the play. Luckily the Oilers have had the lead for every home game this season, and I noticed early on that they never "sat back" on a lead.
In the first few games I wondered if it was just the quality of the opposition, but after watching last night’s game I was confident the Oilers’ were in fact trying to remain aggressive.
David Perron played in St.Louis the past few seasons, and the Blues have a reputation of protecting leads, so I asked him if Eakins’ message, when protecting a lead was different than what he’d previously experienced.
He tells us to keep going, and I love it and I think everyone in the room does. I don’t think that other coaches say sit back, but they way they react it says it without saying it. If you read between the lines, it is pretty easy to figure out that (sitting back) is what they want from the team.
If you are up 3-2, yeah you need to be smart, but even if you are down 1-0 you need to be smart. It is the same game all the time, and I like that. Dallas wants us to learn to play the same game; in the preseason, the regular season and then when we get in the playoffs we won’t be as nervous.
It is refreshing to hear that a coach is constantly telling his team to push forward, and it is equally good to hear a player already thinking about the playoffs. That is the type of attitude the Oilers need.
After speaking with Perron, I asked Eakins about his gameplan to never stop attacking.
It kills me. It makes me crazy. I was getting ready to check myself in in the third period because we started to sit back and I don’t understand why you would. After having great success for two periods by pushing the pace, and limiting their time and space, why would we suddenly give them time and space when the otherwas working for us. I feel the best way to defend a lead is to score a goal. That’s the way to do it. To sit back and give them chance after chance doesn’t make sense to me.
There are things we can do in practice to work on that, but that is more of a mentality. We have to plant the seed, then start taking great care of that seed and watering it every day, and that’s what we are going to do here. That is the one thing I didn’t love about the game, because we started to sit back in the third period.
When the regular season begins and the games matter, if the Oilers are sitting back on a lead, don’t blame the coach. He’ll be just as frustrated and perplexed as you if his team stops pushing forward. I’m curious to see how long it takes before the players are confident enough not to sit back.