When you strip away the excitement that fans are getting closer to having some actual on-ice action to talk about, the 2014 edition of the Edmonton Oilers rookie camp in Penticton is about Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse. Everything and everyone else is a sidebar.

Sure, it’ll be interesting to see if tiny and talented invitee Vladimir Tkachev can exploit more defenseman playing the puck instead of the man, as we saw in a video in an item Jonathan Willis posted this week. Fans want the latest on Greg Chase, who might be a late-round steal. Can Bogdan Yakimov skate well enough to do something with that tantalizing size?

History tells us the vast majority of players who’ll strut their stuff at the Okanagan Events Centre for Oiler coaches and brass starting this weekend will never pull on Edmonton silks for a regular season NHL game. Some are destined for a career in the minors. Others will have real jobs five years from now. A few will get a sniff with the Oilers down the road if talent and hard work and luck intersects with opportunity. Sidebars.

Like it or not, the first step in that intersection in the hockey road is here and now for Nurse and Draisaitl, who will be given every opportunity to play for the Oilers this season. First Penticton. Then, main camp. After that, pre-season. Given their draft pedigree as seventh and third overall picks, it won’t be their only chance, but how they handle it – or don’t – is the story.



“Anytime you get the opportunity to get on the ice, whether it’s a workout or whatever, you just go out there and give everything you have,” Nurse said in an interview with Oilers Now. “It’s going to be my mindset. It’s always been that way. I’m just looking forward to it, getting the opportunity.”

Nurse, 19, taken seventh by the Oilers in 2013, attended the Penticton camp last year. He was returned to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL before seeing action in four games with the Oklahoma City Barons. A string bean when drafted, listed at six-foot-four and 185 pounds, Nurse returns for his encore bigger and stronger.

“It was a lot of fun,” Nurse said of the 2013 camp. “Obviously, it was a bit of an eye-opener for me just seeing the speed and the strength those guys have — even in that tournament. I thought it was a good way to gauge yourself, where you are at that point in the summer and just really try to build on everything from there.”

Nurse, as you’d expect, feels he’ll be able to make a bigger impact at this camp. Anything less, of course, would have to be considered a step back in a bid that’ll see him competing for a roster spot with Martin Marincin and Oscar Klefbom.

“A big thing for me is always size and strength,” Nurse said when asked about improvements he’s tried to make in the last year. “I’m a fairly good skater, so, really, to go back and put on some size the right way . . . and then the minor details in my game, whether it’s positioning in the D-zone or reading rushes. You can always be better no matter who you are.

“I went back this summer straight to the gym. I put in a lot of work there. I had a great strength coach. I watched a lot more film this summer than I ever have before. Just, you know, trying to clean up those small details . . .”



There’s a reasonable argument to be made, as we’ve discussed here many times, that neither Draisaitl nor Nurse should even be in the conversation for an NHL roster spot at this early point in their development. Jason Gregor wrote a first-rate piece about developing defensemen here.

The reality, though, given Edmonton’s duly documented lack of depth at centre and a blue line that’s far from set, is Draisaitl and Nurse will step on the ice in Penticton with a gold-plated opportunity to land a job in the next few weeks. The first step in proving they might actually be ready to grab it is to dominate amid the hopefuls, longshots and sidebars. 

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.

  • Jason Gregor

    I’d say our Defensive depth is adequate enough that we can send Nurse back to Jr, which we should do.

    Centre depth will be tough to leave Draisaitl off. Just because he can make the 28th place team’s roster, doesn’t mean he should be in the NHL. I hope we find a way to send him back to Jr or even Europe after 9 games.

    I prefer Leon go back to the WHL, sure it’s not against men in Europe, but its common for youngsters get under 10min a night in ice time.

    • This is another reason Drai stays, Oil won’t want him to play in Europe. They will have less control, he will get less ice time, and he will play on bigger ice. Is this the best for his development?

      • The Last Big Bear


        The Oilers having less control over his development absolutely IS the best thing for Draisaitl.

        Regardless of the size of the rink he skates on.

        Is getting force-fed 15 mins/night in a top-6 role in the Western Conference the best for his development?

        Because (for reasons which are completely inexplicable) this is clearly exactly what the Oilers intend to do.

  • I’m not at all worried about either Nurse or Draisaitl being good enough to crack the lineup at the start of the year. This IS the OIlers we’re talking about, not a team with “actual depth”.

    What I’m worried about is the physical crash of 18 year old not-fully-developed bodies 60 games into the season when we (hopefully) are making a push for some post-season action.

    You can just see it coming.

  • pkam

    So Dillion Simpson has 0 chance and is far behind Nurse?

    Consider Danny DeKeyser made the Wings roster right after graduating from Western Michigan University, is Dillion so much worse than KeKeyser, and not even comparable to a CHLer?

    • Don’t recall writing Simpson had zero chance and is far behind Nurse. What I did write was this: “A few will get a sniff with the Oilers down the road if talent and hard work and luck intersects with opportunity.”

      I think Simpson fits into that category right now.

      • pkam

        Perhaps I misinterpret your message, but I got the impression that nobody except Nurse and Drisaitle has a chance when I read this:

        “When you strip away the excitement that fans are getting closer to having some actual on-ice action to talk about, the 2014 edition of the Edmonton Oilers rookie camp in Penticton is about Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse. Everything and everyone else is a sidebar”

    • Jason Gregor

      Simpson is not DeKeyser, if he was he wouldn’t have signed with the Oilers, instead opting to be a UFA so teams could bid on his services. Just because he played NCAA doesn’t mean he is the next DeKeyser.

      Simpson’s footspeed needs to improve for him to play in the NHL. He is only 21 and has time to improve.

      DeKeyser was 23, bigger, stronger and faster when he signed as a free agent. I’m not sure why you feel the two are comparable at this point.

      • pkam

        I am not saying Simpson is DeKeyser, I just use Dekeyser as an example to argue that college graduates can make NHL, probably more likely than CHLers.

        I wonder how do we know for sure Dillion has 0 chance before he plays even one preseason game before our eyes.

        Actually, I remember before he signed with the Oilers, there was speculation that he might opt to go UFA because of the defensive depth the Oilers have and he will be a target by many teams. Will that option land him an NHL job this season, I don’t know and now we’ll never know.

  • I can see as to the importance of one or both Burse and Draisaitl making the team or otherwise…but to me, Draisaitl is in a great position to stick no matter what…with exception to only where his head is at maturity-wise, a hard good work ethic, and skating speed ability.

    He is the package size wise and skill wise but those three issues are what to watch for. With Nurse, I believe he has to be an impact big time before being allowed to stick. He also has the size and skill package, along with tremendous skating ability. But with Nurse it will be of thinking/senses to stop the other team/get the puck up the ice. As to being a full time defender (not the 7th) I cannot see him passing Fayne, Nikitin or Ference or even Marancin this year right now …and so it comes down to being far better than Schultz or Petry who are on that dreaded 1 yr contract. MacT is on Schultz’s side big time so maybe it comes down to replacing Petry who then becomes a trade asset. Klefbom is definitely gonna be an Oiler full time by next yr for sure so he will be going against Aulie for that 7th spot.

    I see Draisaitl the easier choice to stick. But over-all I am more excite to see what the next five top prospect kids can do for making the Oilers next yr to the yr after…Khaira, Chase, Yakimov, Moroz, and Brossoit, as also curious of Tkachev. Yessss!!!! Thursday/Friday starts it all officially.

  • 916oiler

    I’m really interested to see who secures a regular NHL job sooner – Nurse or Klefbom.

    Odds say Klefbom since he has AHL/NHL experience, and the favorable situation in that he can start in the AHL and be called up later.

    However, I have a feeling if Klefbom doesn’t stick on the roster this year at some point, Nurse might blow right past him next year. I don’t think they can keep Nurse off the roster next year; this year yes, next year no.

  • pkam

    I read somewhere that draistl won’t go back to junior if he’s sent back and that he will go play in Khl to get the playing against men experience. If your the gm would u want him developing in the Khl on bigger ice? Or in the nhl in a protected role on the small rink? I personally think he’ll be good enuff to not have to answer that question but if so I think he stays regardless.

    • Are you sure its KHL you heard? I know he said he would go pley in europe if he didnt make the Oilers, but I am pretty sure that would be SEL or this like. As far as I understand a player with an NHL contract cant play in the KHL.

      • A-Mc

        Your right it’s Europe. My bad. Same ice tho so my point still stands. The article was by Jonathan Willis . Called where should leon draisaitl play if he doesn’t make the edmonton oilers.

  • Lowe But Now High Expectations

    Keeping (or not keeping) Draisaitl is probably the biggest decision of camp. Joe Thornton (another big center) played as an 18 year old in Boston with limited minutes and it didn’t affect his long term potential. I think it boils down to the maturity level of Leon and also of the players around him.

    • Different player. Different team — Bruins were a top 10 team in 1997-98. Different coach in Pat Burns, who had a lot more options (proven veterans) than Dallas Eakins does when it came to protecting Thornton.

      Not really a solid comparison.

      • Lowe But Now High Expectations

        Not sure I understand your point. He was making a comparison to another highly drafted large bodied centerman, who despite playing limited minutes, managed to succeed in his career. Yes, I am sure there are also numerous examples of those were the same but did not succeed…but I am still not sure why your response of ‘different player, different team’ is even relevant. When analyzing and trying to predict player growth, you will inevitably be comparing everyone to different players who played on different teams operating in different development cycles. There is no other way to do it, and I think your response to the poster was actually quite rude and dismissive, as usual. This is why I have slowly stopped reading your articles, because of your demeanour in the comments section. This is not the only example, and I normally would not have commented on this specific instance, but it is a pattern. That is my two cents, and meant as constructive feedback. You are an expert yes, but you are also required to maintain a readership.

    • Zarny

      What a silly comparison.

      First, Joe Thornton was the consensus #1 overall in a draft year that included Patrick Marleau, Olli Jokinen and Roberto Luongo. Jumbo Joe was significantly better than Draisaitl in his draft year as well as the year prior to being drafted. Thornton was a better prospect than Draisaitl.

      Second, Thornton managed all of 7 PT in 55 games his rookie year.

      You really think that was best for him? What do you think the reaction in Edm would be if that was Draisaitl’s rookie season?

      More importantly, considering the Oilers have literally no one else that qualifies as a 2C behind Nuge, how far in last place do you think the Oilers would be if Draisaitl’s rookie season resembles Joe Thornton’s?

        • Zarny

          You trade an asset like Marincin, Klefbom or the 2015/2016 1st and/or 2nd round draft pick to acquire a 2C.

          Because no, I don’t think Arco, Lander, Gordon or anyone currently on the Oilers roster can play 2C. You can put them on the ice, but they will fail.

    • Serious Gord

      Can’t say that thornton was affected positively or negatively by playing at 18. HE had a terrible season and was eclipsed by Sergei Samsonov who was picked 8th in the same draft year and won the calder.

      Had thornton been fed a bit of humble pie and sent back to the minors he may have been less of a head case for the bruins and then traded to San Jose where he has flourished in regular season play but less so in the post season.

  • Zarny

    Oilers , like most teams now , are focused on getting younger bases over older ones . Our weaknesses/holes will be filled with youth , not aging diminishing veterans . Sounds as though management feels enough is in the system now to afford not having to take on fledging older talents . Nurse , Draisaitl , Klefbom , and probably one or two others could surprise this season as more positions are up for grabs . Not all positions are a lock on this team .

  • I feel it’s important for at least two or more youth such as Draisaitl and Nurse be incorporated onto team so as our current youth now can get a better feel of being more veterans , and take on more leadership responsibilities . We have a group of 26-28 and group of 21-23 . Not much left of the older variety . Our shelves of rookies is over flowing and some need to graduate . Let the competition begin !

  • Zarny

    Unless we’re talking about uber elite prospects like Crosby, Stamkos, Tavares, Doughty, Hall etc the default position should be to send any 18 y/o back to Jr.

    If they come to camp and blow the doors off then you consider keeping them.

    At least Nurse is positioned where he will have to beat out competition for a job.

    Unfortunately with Draisaitl, the Oilers seem bent on repeating past mistakes of gifting top 6 minutes to an unproven kid who hasn’t earned it.

      • Zarny

        Define “capable of playing in the NHL”.

        If you simply mean capable of cracking the bottom of the roster or the bottom of the league then IMO that isn’t good enough.

        The Oilers’ roster isn’t good enough to shelter another 2 rookies when Eakins already has to worry about match-ups for pretty much everyone else on the team already.

        I also don’t think 3rd line and/or bottom pair minutes in the NHL serve Draisaitl and Nurse best. The Oilers want them to be a top 6 F and top 4 D and that is the role I think they need to play this year. They need 17+ min a night, lots of PP time and the ability to progress all the skills they will need to fill a top 6 F/top 4 D role in the NHL.

        So unless Draisaitl and Nurse show unequivocally that they can be a reasonable facsimile of a top 6 F/top 4 D in the NHL this year they are better off in Jr.

        • Zarny

          Totally agree.

          LD can’t be just as good as Arco or Landner or whoever else they might find and Nurse can’t be just as good as Marincin or Klefblom to stay with the Oil. They have to be clearly better or there is no value to the Oil in playing them in the NHL.

          Keeping either one on the roster for spot duty or sheltered minutes makes no sense.

    • So did u see the draft? The top 3 were considered extremely close enough to be all number 1 picks. It was about what team picked number one not who is picked number 1. An article on the nation compared draistl and halls even strength scoring numbers and draistl was bang on with hall. He had over 100+ pts similar to halls final draft hear. He’s noticeably bigger then Nuge was when he entered. What makes you think he can’t be included in the impact prospect player convo? Cuz he was picked 3rd? Let’s see what happens

      • Zarny

        Yep, I watched the draft and read pretty much every scouting report out there.

        The overwhelming consensus was that 2014 was a weak draft. The top 4 were considered to be extremely close and potentially all #1 picks because none of them were truly elite prospects. No one this year likely goes top 5 in 2013.

        Comparing Draisaitl to Hall is flat out silly. Taylor Hall was projected to go 1st overall when he was 14 y/o.

        Hall had 90 PT in 63 games and was the Memorial Cup MVP the year before he was drafted. He is in a group with Crosby, Stamkos, Tavares and Doughty who dominated Jr as 16/17 y/o. In his draft -1 year Draisaitl had a mere 58 PT in 64 games..

        Hall had 106 PT in 57 games his draft year. That projects to 119 PT over the 64 games Draisaitl played during his draft year.

        Simply put…not every draft year is the same. 1st overall and 3rd overall picks vary in caliber from year to year. If anyone should know this it’s Oiler fans. Nuge and Yakupov are not Taylor Hall. Neither is Draisaitl.

        • The Last Big Bear

          I personally think that in short order RNH will be in the same catergory as Hall. He has all the tools but has been a victim of his teenage build and been banged around.

        • Ok so read what I wrote over slowly before u rapid fire on your keyboard. I compared there EVEN strength numbers. Which are similar. And there total points. Which are similar and not “pro rated”. The Windsor spitfires were a pretty good team with hall and company compared to Prince Albert. I wonder what would have happened if driastl was on a team like that? And when they say it’s a weak draft they are implying that after the top tem picks there’s a drop off in skill/talent. Number 1 overall is still number 1 overall and is no way weaker then the rest. If draistl was in on the 2013 draft u really think he doesn’t crack top 5? Ok then. And I didn’t even mention yakupovs name. I was just pointing out a size comparison. If you “pro rated” RNH first rookie season he would have been a Calder cu winner hands down so u could argue his pedigree as being elite. Draistl is draistl. That’s that. To say he shouldn’t be discussed as an impact player or elite is a premateur analysis. Simply put.

        • A-Mc

          The overwhelming consensus was that 2014 was a weak draft. The top 4 were considered to be extremely close and potentially all #1 picks because none of them were truly elite prospects. No one this year likely goes top 5 in 2013.

          What i dont understand is where that is coming from? If you look at point totals, they are all comparible. So are scouts saying that we should ignore production and just take their word as fact that the entire league was better/worse in some years?

          Here are the #1 overall forward selections and their junior point totals:
          2010: Taylor Hall. 106pts, 57GP
          2011: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. 106pts, 69GP
          2012: Nail Yakupov. 69pts, 42GP
          2013: Nathan MacKinnon. 75pts, 44GP
          2014 #3: Leon Draisaitl. 105pts, 64GP

          The only way LD is far inferior to other top choices is if the entire league is worse that year. I find that hard to believe when many players are on repeat and very few actually come out the year following their draft year.

          I just dont see how LD is apparently a weak option..

        • A-Mc

          Using draft -1 isnt fair when talking about LD. It was his first year in NA hockey; he destroyed the German program up until that point.

          Hall was a product of the NA system and it makes sense he’d do better than LD’s first year over here.

          I think you’re cherry picking a bit and you’re also making a mountain out of a mole hill.

  • A-Mc

    I hope to HELL that Nurse, Klefbom and Draisaitl absolutely kill it in preseason action.

    My buddies and i can have endless debates about following “Detroits model” vs playing the best players regardless of age. As the empties stack up through out the night, it’ll surely degenerate to TnA BullSh!ting.

    I can’t wait.


  • The Last Big Bear

    Also, I’m 100% with Zarny in regards to top draft picks not being equal.

    RNH and Yakupov were not guys that would normally go #1 overall.

    Any one of MacKinnon, Barkov, Lindholm, or Monahan would have likely gone 1st overall if they were on the board this year. I only exclude Jones and Nurse because defencemen are tricky and Ekblad has an amazing pedigree.

    Not all drafts are equal, and comparing junior scoring point-for-point means nothing.

    • A-Mc

      What else is there to compare? What else should we be looking at besides results? As far as im aware, we dont have any advanced stats for chl games so its not like we can look at corsi or quality of competition (or even zone starts??).

      So other than point totals and physical characteristics, what else can you gauge a players play on as they come out of junior?

      As far as i’m concerned, lots of these years are too damn close to call to realistically peg 1 year as being superior to others. There are exceptions though: like P. Kane. he was a monster and clearly destroyed folks. He clearly stands as one of the best of the best.

      PS: Crosby is also up there in elite status, w/ P. Kane (obviously)

    • A-Mc

      Your first 2 paragraphs seemed well thought out…

      And then you said Monahan > RNH and lost all credibility.

      There is simply no possible argument you could make that would make that true.

      Not CHL performance (RNH 106pts, Mon 78pts)

      Not WJHC performance (RNH 15pts, Mon CUT)

      And certainly not 1st NHL season performance (RNH 52pts, Mon 34pts)

      Nice troll job tho haha.

      • The Last Big Bear

        I’m not trying to say that Monahan is better than RNH, or even that he would get picked ahead of RNH.

        Only that Monahan would be a runner for getting picked at the top of THIS year’s class. RNH would be too.

        Neither of them would be particularly strong 1st overalls.

        I think RNH is better than Monahan is now, but I can’t honestly say who I think will be better long-term. Monahan is already bigger and a lot more physical, and more of a goal-scorer. I think they’re quite close, and think they both top out as first liners but not “True Number One Centres ™”

        • The Last Big Bear

          An nhl gm would laugh at the comment that RNH doesn’t have the potential to be a number 1 line elite center. Or that he “tops out ” as a first line center but not a true one. Any other team in the oilers position would have picked that same players and none of them would have went back to junior. Pittsburg did it. So did Chicago. Edmonton gets flack cause of there record of losing. Pittsburg lost for a bit too before the cup came. Same Chicago. The thing people confuse is the fact we have been out of the playoffs for 8 yrs. but the rebuild started about 4 years ago. We are right on schedule wit the other teams who rebuilt. We just got some extra 1st overalls

  • The Last Big Bear

    @ The Last Big Bear

    Yet I have read a number of articles this summer about prospects dying on the vine and not getting playing time in leagues built to win. The CHL and AHL are considered development leagues. Prospects need to play important minutes, not 4th line on the wing.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Keep them both here. Let them get that learning curve/awkward first season as a pro under their belt. So what if the price of doing this is 3 or 4 wins. Look at what one meaningless win did for them down the stretch last season.

    24 to 26th place finish is a realistic expectation with huge lotto potential. It lands them right in the mix for one of those two golden draft selections next summer. With MacTavish not plugging any of the gapping holes this summer, it appears as though this may be his game plan as well.

  • The Last Big Bear

    All this talk about whether the two rookies should make the team this year. Well, we can’t know for sure which route is best for each player like the coaches on the inside. I just want to toss out the notion that if they stay, even in sheltered roles, will being the top dog in the chl or playing on large ice in europe be better than surrounding yourself with nhl players, learning the routines of the league and very importantly, getting to practice with the guys for a full season. I think a season of hard work and open ears in the bigs can still be a bigger asset than being sent back to a lower league. It is a cliche, but it will ultimately be up to the two players, and where their heads are at, as well as their talents.

  • Lowe But Now High Expectations

    Gregor’s arguement is solid and based on historical fact. Now throw that out the window and look at the player we are talking about in Darnell Nurse. The guy is a stud. Comes from a family of studs. His athletic pedigree is without question. We are comparing apples and oranges. The key question is not so much his physical maturity but his mental maturity.

    We have seen athletes in every sport fail due to mental immaturity when they came into the leagues they were drafted into. For some the money is a huge issue. Big paycheques lead to bigger problems. For some its the media pressure. And others its the weight of expectations.

    Can Darnell Nurse overcome these pressures and many others that he will face? Who really knows? Some athletes thrive on pressure. Others not so much. Its Darnell Nurses life and career to make. Who are we to judge a man’s character before its been tested in the fire of battle on the ice.