The Edmonton Oilers selected Darnell Nurse this summer in the entry draft, and then sent him out to junior after a strong showing in training camp. Nurse looks like the real deal—defense first, rugged player, a mean streak and he can move the puck—but it’s going to take some time before he gets to the NHL and then even longer to be helping the team win games. With the Taylor Hall/Jordan Eberle payday contracts kicking in this season, what is the window for this group? How long do they have to wait for that complete defenseman? Is it worth waiting?
I’ve chosen two defensemen we can compare in terms of outer marker, they aren’t perfect but give us an idea about how this might go with Nurse in the next few seasons.
- Duncan Keith: Drafted 2002, he turned pro in 2004 and played two full seasons in the minor leagues. Chicago brought him to the NHL in 2005-06 and he played big minutes immediately (led the Hawks in TOI as a rookie). At that time, the Blackhawks had a group of veterans (Spacek, Aucoin) to mentor the kids (Keith, Seabrook, Byfgluien) and Keith was thrown into the deep end at 22-years old. Based on the numbers available, it looks like he struggled in year one, improved smartly year two and then at 24 became Duncan Keith.
- Alex Pietrangelo: Drafted 2008, he got two looks at 18 and 19 (remember Nurse almost got a look this past season, and may get some games next fall) before finally making the NHL at age 20. Again, Pietrangelo was close to leading the club in TOI and as with Duncan Keith Pietrangelo was surrounded by veterans (St. Louis stapled the rookie to veteran Barret Jackman). He was an outstanding rookie and has been a quality player for the Blues early in his career.
Representing the idea of bringing Nurse to the NHL next fall, we have Exhibit "B" below. Since 2006-07, there have been 12 teenagers who have played 50 or more games in the NHL during their rookie year:
From these dozen players who were good enough to land an NHL job, I’d say at least six of them can reasonably be described as having struggled in the following seasons (Myers, Del Zotto, Fowler, Schenn, Johnson, Larsson). Now, your mileage may vary, you might include more or less or exclude some I’ve mentioned, but it does appear there’s a 50% (or more) chance an NHL team is welcoming growing pains (and retarded development) by going this route.
TRADE FOR BLUE
Which brings us back to trading for a defenseman. If the Oilers wait for Nurse, and do it the right way, they could be looking (using the Keith example) at 2017-18 for a strong NHL defenseman wearing Nurse’s number. That’ll coincide with the final three seasons of the current Taylor Hall deal.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
The Oilers don’t have a better prospect than Nurse in their system and they don’t have anyone with a complete skill set on the NHL roster. They’re going to have to procure this talent via free agency or trade.
Coming in December: the candidates.