nurse ferguson2

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?


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.

eakins nurse

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. 

mact on nurse


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. 

nurse ferguson


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. 

  • I have always loved Nurse’s tenacity and grit in games seen thus far, and since last year after the draft, I have watched him come along better and better.

    IMO, this TC has shown me that at the very least a 9 game trial is merited. The best part of the younguns on defence is that Marancin, Nurse, and Klefbom are waiver exempted and so the merry go round can be without complications, especially with Nikitin injured.

    If the Oilers use Nurse alot in the next nine games, then he definitely needs a defensive partner for coverage and if not Petry then I would use Ference for the 3rd piaring. Fayne and Petry would work as a shutdown unit while Marancin and Schultz could be decent to very surprising ina very good way. Ference would be there to not only support Nurse but shelter him when Nurse is cught up ice (seemingly his speed back makes this not too bad an issue.

    Yep, with Nikitin injured, and if both Petry and Ference okay to go then I would pair them up (as I said above to start the year), and have Klefbom go down to OKC with Hunt for now while Aulie gets a brief repreive to be the 7th guy despite a not so great TC.

    Aulie can be waived at any time, if I’m correct, so let Kleffer and Hunt get a ton of minutes to develop some more down in OKC. Nurse can learn from his 9 games this year until Nikitin comes back…or he just expodes (with his awesome raw talent and upside) and stays for goodslide back to junior for his final year there and one WJC.

  • O.C.

    At this point in their development, I think it’s a lot more beneficial for Klefbom to be getting big minutes in OKC instead of pressbox duty/7D.

    Since the only two options for Nurse are NHL or back to junior, he’d be much less affected by getting his 9 games & going back down in time for WJC. If the AHL was an option for him, it might be a different story.

  • knee deep in it

    with fayne, nikitin, petry, shultz, and ference, we have two spots open for development roles. Is there any reason why we can’t put marincin and nurse in for 41 games each plus another 20 or so for injury replacement duties? This gives them around 60 games each in a fairly sheltered role.

    It also allows us to transition klefbom into the lineup next year. The one thing I do not want is 3 rookies playing big roles at one time. Without two of Nurse, marincinm and Klefbom playing this year, we are going to be forced into that next year. We are not cup contenders this year and I would rather do the growing pains now than waste next year.

  • knee deep in it

    Nurse is a big upgrade over Aulie, and so far, Nikitin. He is also much quicker, bigger and more agressive than Ference. Let the kid play. He’s big, tough, and agressive…haven’t heard that much when thinking of Oilers Defencemen.

  • The scary part about giving Nurse 9 games is that he could make it even harder to send him back. The kid can fly. Most athletic player on defense the oilers have. And outside of Hall, I’d say the most athletic player on the entire roster.

    Watching him join the rush and somehow be the first man back is almost hard to believe. His physical game is top notch. His defensive game is hard to nail down because he seems to win battles and have a great stick but his positioning is hard to assess when he’s everywhere all the time. His offensive game seems to be second only to Jultz on this roster.

    IMHO he’s likely the 4th best d man overall right now for the Oil. Behind Petry, Fayne, and Marincin. Between Nurse, Jultz, Nikitin, and Ference…. it’s hard for me to say that overall he isn’t every bit as good as those three. Especially when you factor in everything he brings. … Sure his offense isn’t equal to Jultz, but he’s way more physical, and a good step up defensively. Maybe he isn’t as consistent and reliable defensively as Ference, but he brings some speed and offense that Ference will never have, and his physical play is every bit as good as Ference’s if not miles better. Nikitin has been a pro a long time so I’m guessing he’s going to be much less chaotic than nurse as well, but he still doesn’t bring the speed and physicality that Nurse brings. IMO the chaos in Nurse’s game is the only thing stopping him from making the leap

  • Jaxon

    For the sake of consitency, I’d play Nurse with Fayne. If the pairings on a healthy roster post-Nurse-9 are going to be Nikitin-Fayne, Marincin-Petry, Ference-Schultz, then simply put Nurse in Nikitin’s place. Playing with a dependable player like Fayne would be great for Nurse plus, nobody would have to adjust to a new partner except Fayne who has already played with Nikitin most of the pre-season and nobody else has really played with Nikitin.

  • D

    If this was Vegas and the betting options were Nurse back to Juniors or Nurse playing the entire season in Edmonton, I would put my money on Nurse staying the entire season in Edmonton.

  • ThinkingOutLoud

    I’d love to see him make the team, but 19 will his shoulders be strong enough to last 82 games vs a league full of guys who already have their man-strength? As the season wears on the competition gets tougher as well, while nurse may be going all out right now.

    It would be awesome to have him, but no sense delaying his dev with 1 year off following the shoulder surgery which seems to be a tradition with all our young guys…

    P.S. I feel the exact same was about Draisaitl

  • Sevenseven

    Look how far the Oilers D has come since last year. Lots of emerging talent on the back end. I like the upward arrows of this team, and I felt that aside from the first period, our mostly Ahl roster stacked up well against the Canucks Nhl roster.

  • BlazingSaitls

    You know who Nurse reminds me of? Chris Pronger.
    Bear with me here.
    Nurse is no where near the talent of a Chris Pronger, yet. Not even in Pronger’s worst years.
    Even still, Nurse has showed glimpses of Pronger-like skill.

    Reach, stride, nasty stick, nasty presence, nasty streak, mean, physical, active stick, nasty, involved in all the play, nasty…did I mention nasty?

    I hope he can stay in the show and start to fine tune his Pro game. It would seem a shame to see this kid in juniors; even if that is the best place for him.

  • Sevenseven

    Of one thing I’m certain, that Eakins will come up with some ridiculous pairing that will nuter Darnell before the season begins.

    I hear he is thinking of extending the pre-season because he is still confused about all of his prospects. I also heard from a very reliable source that he is thinking of getting Joey Moss to play with Darnell.

    Well once he figures out which of his prospects to send down, our season will be over.

    According to Eakins chemistry is a subject.

  • Mike Krushelnyski

    As per Ryan Rishaug, Nurse is indeed sticking, along with Hunt. Klefbom and Marincin are headed to OKC. Notable garbage man Will Acton also starts the year with the Oilers – probably because he did so well last year.

  • Sevenseven

    I’m pretty livid that they sent down Marincin. Officially got my hate on for that floppy haired coach. To top it off he keeps Acton?!? Like who am I watching here, Acton is a good echl player and a 4th line ahl center. Didn’t think the oil would compete in the playoffs this year but they would be close….. my god wtf has Eakins done.

  • BlazingSaitls

    My theory is that Will Acton is there to kill penalties. A defensively dependable presence on a team that lacks any defensive presence.

    I am not happy about todays moves for the obvious. Marincin down Acton stays.? Sigh.

    If they keep Acton up for his defense Eakins might as well play him on the PP too. Maybe Acton can stop other teams from salivating and drooling while scoring short handed goals.

    Im gonna go back to pondering Nurse. I want to have hope again…

  • Spydyr

    Give the kid Nurse his nine games IMO he has earned it.Take your time getting to the nine games sit him a few.If he earns a spot in nine games keep him.It is not rocket surgery.

  • BC BOY

    Very nice overview of Nurses evolution and progress Lowtide.

    I am on-board with your thinking with one single note of importance.

    Darnell is a snarly young player who WILL end up fighting,his style dictates this must happen,I DO NOT want to see another Nick Stadjuhar , If Darnell is going to play this season at his light weight then he MUST have a defense partner with him who WILL initiate fights the second he smells smoke blowing in Darnells direction.This type of support would require 2 things, a buy-in from Darnell so his confidence and manhood do not take shots when he backs down or when his partner pro-actively pummels someone to intervene on his behalf,and number 2 the right d-man to work with him,the man must be smart enough to see trouble coming and nasty enough to just go intevene nearly every time.Just when I was thinking Ference was dispensable his skillset becomes needed,huh,the guy has nine lives.

    I just dont see Nurse being ready for the NHL level fisticuffs and his development depends somewhat on his maintaining that edge to his game.

    If he can play and not fight or be consistantly protected from doing so then I think he has earned a spot this season based solely on the merits of his play.

    At this point the d-man prospect group is deep enough that the Coaches can lean towards a specific players who communictes better,now better comunication and learning skills could make the difference to the Coaches more than physical skillset differences.

  • Oilers Coffey

    LOVE IT Nurse has shown he has the tools this Oilers toolbox is missing!
    A toolbox has many different elements and Nurse brings those tools that the Oilers are missing!
    He stays past 9 games 😉

  • mrjgardiner

    If Darnell gets injured before the 9 games are up (let’s just say it’s season ending), are there any contractual repercussions (such as using up ELC year or not being able to send him back unless he’s able to play)?

  • mrjgardiner

    This has nothing to do with Nurse, I always like the kid, although this TC I begin to doubt whether he should be rushed to the SHOW; He’s still wet behind his ears, and he desperately need to bulk up a few more lbs.
    This has everything to do with Marincin! He didn’t show much this TC, but how can MacT make such a decision based on a small sample size? Everybody can see for over the last 40+ games last year, he clearly was the best defenceman the Oil had! If he was told to bulk up, as reported, and has an apparently lose some agility this spring, he obviously need a longer time to adjust to his weight, it’s all! It’s like your boss told you to do something, you did it, and you got can, because he didn’t like the end result, do you know how rediculus this sounds? It’s outragious to say the least!

  • 1979

    Agreed that Nurse and Petry would be a great pair! Tough to figure on pairs for opening night…especially with Petry’s injury…

    Klefbom – Schultz
    Nurse – Petry
    Ference – Fayne

    or if Petry isn’t ready…

    Nurse – Fayne
    Klefbom – Schultz
    Ference – Hunt

    or they might want Hunt for the PP…

    Nurse – Fayne
    Ference – Schultz
    Hunt – Petry

    It will be interesting to see 🙂

  • 916oiler

    I still say we are better long-term to send him back to junior and let him play in the world juniors this year. Let him have his 9 (max) games and get a taste of the NHL then ship him back to develop