In the spring, Darnell Nurse played some AHL games for the Oklahoma City Barons. Most observers felt he was unready for that level and certainly miles from being NHL ready. Just a few months later, Nurse is very close to making the Edmonton Oilers. What gives?
WHAT ABOUT THIS?
Theories run rampant about this kind of disconnect (the spring assessment of a junior player in the AHL) and some of them seem reasonable:
- The player is stepping up after a season at one level, and there’s a period of adjustment. As late season and playoff games are more important, any error or gap in performance is noticed and stored in the “this is really important information” portion of our brains.
- Training camp gives everyone a fresh start, and the young player (in this case Nurse) will be gearing up along with the veterans. It may take longer to expose insufficient play.
- The structure of playing with NHL players makes it easier, as the “possible outcomes” of a specific game state are more predictable.
I buy into all of them, but would also suggest young Nurse has impressed enough to be considered bona fide.
I’ve felt all TC that Nurse would get 9 games in the NHL and then we’ll see. I feel even more strongly that will be the case after the injury to Nikita Nikitin. The performance in preseason by Darnell Nurse shows he’s capable (while making mistakes) and perhaps more importantly unique on this roster.
Nurse possesses a wide range of skills, meaning he can battle (and win), use his wingspan to break up and defend sorties, displays a mean streak and won’t back down from a challenge.
On the other hand, he can pass and make a pass, has real mobility, and as he showed in the preseason use his speed to recover and pursue.
Put simply, if the Oilers send Darnell Nurse down to the minors today they lose some of the things he brings, because they don’t have them in another two-way player. Justin Schultz is more gifted offensively, but is miles from Nurse physically and the teenager shows a more dependable side defensively.
If Oscar Klefbom had posted a more impressive training camp, perhaps Nurse gets sent down today (and that may happen anyway). My guess is that range of skills he’s shown during the last couple of weeks gets him at least 9 games.
IS IT A GOOD IDEA?
I’d be tempted to give Darnell Nurse a quality partner (maybe Jeff Petry) and run him for those 9 games in a big EV role. He’s going to make mistakes, but he’s also going to give you plays no one else on the roster can manage.
Look, it’s always a good idea to use patience when talking defensemen, and it’s extremely rare for a 19-year old to step in and be effective. If Nikita Nikitin is healthy, maybe you make a different call. The Oilers are completely reasonable in contemplating the idea of keeping Nurse to start the season.