Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse and the Return to Junior (Updated)

Craig MacTavish2

It doesn’t take long for a junior-age player’s nine-game audition to come to an end. Leon Draisaitl is a touch short of halfway there, having played four of those contests. Darnell Nurse has sat out two, so he’s only played a pair, but there’s a bit of a logjam in terms of space on the back end and nobody wants to see him sitting in the press box.

In short, it’s soon enough to start wondering whether the duo will stay in the NHL for the duration of the 2014-15 season.


Draisaitl, Leon

Draisaitl’s great edge comes from the lack of strength in the centre ice position for the Oilers. Unfortunately for him, the general manager has already said that doesn’t matter. Craig MacTavish, from a September 14 conversation with TSN’s Bob McKenzie:

We’ll make that decision on whatever’s best for Leon. We don’t want to put him in a situation that’s not best for his development. That’s really what we’ll be basing that decision on. We think he’s got lots of game, lots of size, lots of strength; he has lots of NHL-ready attributes but we don’t know that they’ll all mesh to the point that he can play this year and we’ll make that decision based on what’s best for him.

At this point, there are some strong arguments to send him back to junior.

First, it’s debatable whether he’s ready or not. There’s still time for Draisaitl to show something, but through four games he has a lone assist (off a funny play against Arizona) and hasn’t stood out in a sheltered role. He needs to do more with those minutes.

Second, he’s hurting his linemates. Dallas Eakins is doing his best to help the player – a lot of times, Draisaitl is one of the pressuring forwards in the offensive zone while either Nail Yakupov or Benoit Pouliot play the role of high forward. That’s an understandable way to limit Draisaitl’s defensive responsibilities, but it’s a bad fit for skill – having the slow, cerebral guy in on the forecheck while the fast, physical guy hangs back ends up limiting the effectiveness of both players. Not only that, but having Draisaitl as a centre limits the roles that Yakupov and Pouliot can play – with a legitimate NHL centre between them that line could handle much tougher assignments, taking on more minutes in the process.

Third, if this season goes off the rails there’s no sense exposing Draisaitl to it at his age. Let him have success in junior (or Europe, if that’s where he ends up going) and enjoy the World Juniors.

The big argument against is that the obvious replacement for Draisaitl in the system is Will Acton or Anton Lander or Bogdan Yakimov, each of which poses his own problems. Sending him out practically requires that a trade be made simultaneously.


Darnell Nurse

It’s easy to see why the Oilers like him, and he’s come leaps and bounds over the last calendar year. The physical tools are all there, and he has an attitude to match. He makes the physical play every chance he gets, he doesn’t hesitate to move or skate the puck; he’s a guy who clearly wants to be a difference-maker at both ends of the ice.

But he’s still raw, still a guy that could use some polish. The progression in his game year-over-year is obvious; there’s no reason not to think he’ll continue to grow if he returns to the OHL and development has to be the primary focus here. The argument for Draisaitl above – that playing for the Oilers could well end up not being a positive experience in 2014-15 and that there’s a chance to play in the World Juniors (co-hosted by Toronto and Montreal) – apply equally well to Nurse.

The other thing working against Nurse is the number of players available on the left side of the Oilers’ defence. While the team lacks a legitimate top-pairing option, Nikita Nikitin and Andrew Ference are going to be in the lineup every night and Edmonton really needs Martin Marincin to join them. Because Nurse isn’t clearly head-and-shoulders above the pack, he can’t possibly be expected to solve the problem; he’s just part of the logjam of bottom-four defenders on the team.

Decision Time


Technically, there’s no rush on either player – the Oilers have until the nine-game mark to make a decision. But there is a pretty decent argument that the time to make a choice is now.

In Draisaitl’s case, it’s the state of the team that matters. A veteran NHL centre might help a lot, and if one’s available there’s no sense holding off to find out whether Draisaitl can fill the role. This isn’t a team that is in any position to take those chances, so if a trade’s available sending Draisaitl to junior and adding the new guy is pretty close to a no-brainer.

In Nurse’s case, the team has to decide whether he plays or a guy like Marincin plays. A year ago, Marincin was shockingly good in a shutdown role, and the Oilers need ‘good in a shutdown role’ yesterday. It would be nice to take a longer look at the player, but unless they’re willing to scratch the captain or stick Nikitin on IR for a bit (I’m not at all convinced he’s fully recovered from that nasty incident in the preseason) there’s no place for Nurse and they can’t afford to leave Marincin outside the top-six.

It’s not a given either sticks around for a full nine-game trial.



  • Zarny

    They have to make a move for a centre… Not neccessarily a 2C but an NHL centreman not named Jarred Smithson

    and maybe, just maybe they should move Shultz…

    I thought they should have moved Gagner after the lockout season he had… i had a feeling that was his peak and he would be the next Curtis Brown…..We could have maybe got something that looked like a 2C for him there.

    • bradleypi

      I do agree about Schultz. I think Justin Schultz is a decent player but not nearly as good as everyone in the Oilers organization is making him out to be. They keep touting him as a great offensive puck moving dman but he isn’t. He doesn’t control the game like real puck moving dmen do. Even the ones who aren’t elite dmen like Streit, Fowler, and Visnovsky. I know he’s still young but you’d think that he’d at least be good at what he’s known for. I think everyone would accept his defensive deficiencies if he was better at creating with the puck, but Marincin and Petry show about the same level of puck control as him most of the time and they hold the line better in the offensive zone. The only thing that he has over them is opportunity(more PP time/prime PP time) and a better wrist shot.

  • Bob Cobb

    sending Leon back to junior shouldn’t mean that we necessarily have to make an immediate trade. Lander is not showing that much promise and an offensive player, but he has and AHL resume and NHL experience. I don’t think he has ever played with players of pouliot or yakapov’s calibre either. Put him in as the 3C while we try and find a replacement. 6d should be marincin, petry, ferrence, fayne, schultz, nikitin. This would make the roster pretty much the same as we expected going into training camp, and may have resulted in 2 wins by now instead of 0 wins. Eakins and Mac T were trying to do something brilliant and it backfired. The only think I’m left wondering is if Klefbomb is better than those 6 starting D?

  • PChan121

    Good on sending Nurse back for further development.
    My only beef is why not give him one home game so he can at least have that experience too and perhaps an opportunity to leave on a better note. He would have looked good tonight against the Canucks…
    Oh well, onward.
    Oh, and one more thought:
    Fire Eakins, cause he’s an idiot.

  • Armchair_Gm

    If the oilers want Draisatl and nurse to both play tons of minutes and have success its not going to be in the NHL. I love nurse, I totally compare him to pronger. Draisatl needs work nurse needs expérience.

  • PChan121

    Is there any other team in the league that has an 18 year old on the team ever single year? There are an extremely low number of players that can play in the NHL at age 18. It should be a once in 10 year occurrence, not every year. It does more harm than good. Stop it already!

  • Eberle Hills 90210

    Regarding the misuse of Schultz, perhaps Mac T is sacrificing 20 games of this season to save some money and leverage an asset going forward. Schultz and his agent were using Subban as a comparable, saying that Schultz was norris trophy caliber. This is ridiculous obviously, so Mac T lets everyone know what Schultz’s expectations are of himself and play him with rookies in top paring minutes for 20 games. If he really is a norris candidate he will be able to shelter weaker players and still drive the play, if he is not then we see what we are seeing right now. This way there is no mistaking what type of player he is and there is no way Schultz or his agent can spin it any differently come next contract. Instead of 6 year 6 million because of point collected during soft minutes (which the schultz camp will say could be more if he played top minutes), they will have exposed him and he gets a contract as a 6/7th D power play specialist. We are not making the playoffs this year anyway, so based on Schultz unrealistic expectations of himself and the desire of the oilers to actually keep the player as what he is at corresponding salary, they are throwing him to the wolves for the first 20 games to prove it to him.

  • S cottV

    No way they can get away with playing Leon and Yak together.

    Not right for either of them.

    Yak back in defensive support? OMG… I agree he is faster. Unfortunately – he is faster getting to the wrong places, particularly in defensive support.

    Give Leon a chance to stick by keeping him away from Yak. That being said – Leon probably needs to go back and work on quickness. Big guy who looks slower than he really is, but probably not quick enough anyway.

    I would probably go against the grain with Nurse and keep him. We need a legit first pairing d man and I don’t see anything on the horizon. The team is not going to make the playoffs, so take a chance and see if you can fast track (3 year project) a young guy who can contribute in the future, at first rotation d. I looks like he has the tools and mental toughness to handle fast track pressure, that might otherwise ruin him.

  • PChan121

    Willis…what is your love affair with Marincin? He was brutal in camp and preseason and he got sent down because of it. Get over it. The team sucks but do you think he’s going to change that? What is it with you stats guys being so set on one guy that you can’t see the reality of what happens on the ice?

    • bradleypi

      if we only took players that had a good camp and preseason it would be full of AHL and junior players who are giving 100% and them some the whole time. NHL Players know they have a long season ahead and are conserving energy. Marincin is an NHL player, everyone knows it but the oilers.

    • bradleypi

      I agree with what your saying, marincin isn’t gonna help this gong show much, but he’s definitely a better option than nurse… the oilers actually got this one right sending nurse back to junior… give him a chance to win some games…

      • bradleypi

        I don’t mind him playing instead of nurse at all. I just don’t see why people think he’s such a proven nhl dman. I’d still rather klefbom in a heartbeat

    • 1. He was put into a position to fail in camp and the preseason, and he still managed to excel in the latter half while playing on his offside alongside Keith Aulie.

      2. If we’re weighting training camp against 40-odd real NHL games last season, which deserves more consideration?

      3. “I can’t fix everything so I might as well fix nothing” is a defeatist attitude. Look after pennies and dollars take care of themselves; look after the small decisions and an organization will eventually get healthy.

  • S cottV

    Like everybody else At the beginning of the season, I was hoping they be staying with the team, but now, I sure hope they would be send to their respective junior teams to further develop, because it became painfully clear that Edmonton is no longer an ideal breeding ground for young players! The Oil simply don’t have coaches that can teach them play sound defensive game, nor do they have veteran players they could horn their skills with! Let them play 5 years at the junior level, maybe they could come back as a good hockey man, that way they would not develop any bad habits along the way!!! As a matter of fact, send them kids all down to the minors and learn……

  • clrsnldvc81


    22 scouts!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! if that doesn’t say something big is brewing i don’t know what it is…

    If Ebs gets traded i can’t imagine we are trading from a point of strength.

    1) his new contract kicked in… Hello 6 Million!?!?!?
    2) he’s off to a slow start this year
    3) he sat a game with an undisclosed injury
    4) he is our best player’s best friend and roommate. I’m sure that would piss Hallsy off

    If it’s Yak he looks better this year so his value is up but if he FINALLY put it together and we are going to give up on him now and he turns out to be a stud… FML… chalk it up to YET ANOTHER form of crappy luck Oil Country has to endure… #herecometheoilers #hockeykarmafortheeighties

    • Leef O'Golin

      It likes it is big rumor I read online is Yak to CLB…….

      I really hope they don’t move Yak he’s gonna be a dynamo.

      Totally agree on Eberle…… Cant have Hall pissed.

      If something’s happening I’m hoping Schultz or petry and picks.

  • Eberle Hills 90210

    Apparently this is the lineup for tonights game per Rishaug:

    Hall Arcobello Eberle
    Purcell RNH Yakupov
    Pouliot Draisaitl Perron
    Hendricks Gordon Joensu

    Ference Petry
    Nikitin Schultz
    Marincin Fayne


    If Arcobello can even just hold his own it could help the team out a tonne tonight. Should gives RNH some breaks from toughest matchups and Yak + Drai both get a couple veterans to work with. Unfortunately Im sure the Canucks realize last game they played they were able to bang up Ebs, Nuge, and to some extent hall, so I see the Nucks playing them as rough as they can.

    Lets all drink to much and hope Nikitin+Schultz are vastly improved somehow from the last few game.

    Scrivens buddy we need you to steal a few over the year, tonight would be a great place to start building back up the teams confidence in ya!

    Can someone explain to me how to get the breaks in between the Lines, it looks right when Im writing it then I post and all the player are listed on 1 line, Sorry i’m new to this

  • clrsnldvc81

    Draisaitl’s top end speed through the neutral zone is actually fine, IMO, although there is always room for improvement. His first couple steps definitely need improvement. Basically the opposite of Yakupov.

    Yakupov looks twice as fast this year, and bigger/stronger. That 11 pounds this summer is working well.

    I’d send Leon back, get him out of this environment.

    We have a couple options:

    1) Stay as is and potentially (and likely) finish bottom 5 again

    2) Use the 1st round pick or Eberle or both to get good vet centre

    Obviously, the next question is who is available and the first name that comes to mind is Eric Staal. I honestly don’t know what the cost for Staal is, but I’d start with a 1st and Klefbom and work from there. If they want Eberle, then Oilers management really needs to consider the term left on Staals deal.

    If we can swing a deal using our 1st + good prospect + klefbom for Staal, I’m inclined to do it as we give up 0 NHL players. I think the addition of Staal would help us stay out of the basement.

    I’d then look to deal Schultz. Immediately.

      • If we ran a line up like:




        I think we stay out of the basement. Playoffs? Likely not due to our defense. I’d be curious of what Schultz’s value is league wide.

    • bradleypi

      You do realize that at this point, that 1st round pick is Connor McDavid right? Or jack eichel….. so you would trade one if those potential franchise players, plus klefblom for a 30+ year old Eric staal???? Not in a million years would I make that trade

      • Zarny

        Here is the thing…13 days ago Garth Snow traded two 2nd round picks for Johnny Boychuk.

        At that point, the NYI 2nd round pick was 34 ish overall. Today that pick looks more like 55th overall.

        The Oilers’ 2015 1st round is obviously more valuable and Eric Staal won’t waive his NTC to come to Edmonton; but the same principle applies.

        If you trade the 2015 for a truly impactful player that pick isn’t Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel anymore. It’s Dylan Strome or Pavel Zacha.

        • bradleypi

          So you actually think that getting Eric staal would make this team better? By how many points do you think? Maybe 10… 15….? so now we’ve just traded ourselves outta the McDavid sweepstakes, still miss the playoffs, and have an aging high priced Centre on the team that the fans will no doubt blame the missed playoffs on…”ie. horcoff… ”
          There is no trade that helps this team until Eakins is shown the door

          • Zarny

            As I said, Eric Staal isn’t coming to Edmonton but a player of that magnitude absolutely makes this a better team by probably 15-20 PT. And yes, that takes the Oilers outta the McDavid sweepstakes.

            Here is the thing about firing Eakins…it improves the Oilers by about 0 PT.

            The Oilers have lost under multiple coaches. The problem isn’t coaching. The problem is the players aren’t good enough.

          • bradleypi

            Well you and I are watching a different oilers team then… lol. 1 player is not gonna improve this team 20 points unless his name is gretzky or Orr…in their prime of course….. name me this Centre that will save the season if you don’t mind….

  • Leef O'Golin

    I like RNH on the 2nd line. Give him a break with matchups and give us some more depth. Arcobello looked good last game, he can play with Hall/Eberle.

    I’ve been wondering lately if RNH isn’t better suited as a 2nd line center. No matter his skill level he just cannot match up physically. Not that Arco can either I suppose…

      • bradleypi

        It’s hockeybuzz, a site where your imagination runs free. I’m surprised I haven’t seen the story of Wayne Gretzky coming out of retirement to play goal.

    • bradleypi

      What universe do you live in where we get Tavares for yak? Maybe after that we can trade Bachman to la for quick and then flip Arco for Crosby.

      I read your comments sometimes and I can’t decide if I’m jealous because you’re living in such an alternate reality, angry because you’re allowed to share these ridiculous thoughts, or just sad because you actually might believe these dumb comments

    • Man, that’ll be great!

      Eklund’s so awesome. I remember on Sportsnet when he reported the Oilers had agreed to a five-year extension with Ryan Smyth when there were all kinds of rumours he was going to be shipped away. Can you imagine if he’d been dealt somewhere for magic beans what a disaster that would’ve been?

  • What we really need to do is get rid of the cheerleaders, the $hitty guy who plays that damn drum … Send them down to Cape Breton . We also need a new chant. Let’s go oilers just ain’t cutting it. I felt more electricity in the air when I watched the Cape Breton Oilers long ago in the AHL. I wonder if Brodeur would come play with us. That would be sweet !

    Hi everyone, I’m Leon .

  • Spoils

    what about the fact that the rumor mill is spinning about the leafs getting Eric Staal.

    and look at the Islanders crushing it.

    look at Hiller

    sooo much more.

    you can’t help but feel Oiler management is failing.

    go wrestle a #2C out of a team!

    bring Marincin back!

    come on.

  • Anton Lander deserves another crack at it… Great AHL numbers in 50 odd games. Poor NHL numbers in 20 odd games but another year of experience for a young player with an off season to boot.

    • 20 odd nhl games?maybe last year……but, Lander has been given lots of opportunity, and played nearly 100 nhl games, with a total of 8 points……..Lander has proven he is solid AHLer, but not yet effective enough for the nhl….he has underwhelmed with each opportunity

      i would rather see Yakimov get the opportunity at this point….

  • The Future Never Comes

    Why don’t we ever talk of potential trade scenarios for Eric Staal? Or does he have a no move clause? AKA he would never wave it to play for this hopeless so called franchise.

    • He’s currently injured, and has a no move clause, and has done nothing of significance since winning the cup in ’06. If Roloson didn’t get injured, Eric Staal doesnt win a stanley cup, and he would be even less significant than he is already.

  • bradleypi

    if yakapov is traded I will retire as an oiler fan. Seriously. Because the oilers failed in the offseason to overpay for NHL centers to fill the void for a few years, they are crippling their team for the next 15 years by trading yakapov in a deal they will no doubt lose.

  • Zarny

    So according to most observers Shultz is a lousy defenceman,why not move him to center,it worked really well for Red Kelly in Toronto like a hundred or so years ago.
    Just sayin.

    • Zarny

      Not necessarily lousy, just not what they are making him out to be. I’m not demanding they trade Schultz, but I do think they need to find a top 4 dman because Schultz shouldn’t be playing those kind of minutes. He should be last in ES ice time and log top 2 PP time.

  • The Last Big Bear

    Jonathan your article makes a lot of sense, however Oilers management doesn’t. Draisaitl wont be sent back to junior because the Oilers were too stupid to sign anyone else and now no one is going to make a trade to help them out. What is it going to take to clean house here? I mean we have been dead last for years, that didn’t do it. We can’t suck any worse so what is it? When you could put anyone with half a brain in the GM position and they could do a better job why hasn’t anyone been fired? The only thing I can come up with is the Oil wanted to finish last to draft McDavid, but even then that doesn’t explain the constant approach of rushing and ultimately ruining players. The development model is broken. We need vets that can help not more young players. So what in the hell are they doing?

    • The Last Big Bear

      I agree that the organization has been a joke and nobody above a coach held accountable but just curious…which young players do you think we have ruined? People talk about this all the time but I don’t know who we ever ruined and how playing someone when they are young can ruin them. It’s not like there is any pressure when you know you’re a bottom 3 team.

  • The Last Big Bear

    What happens to goalies when they join the Oilers, perceived as capable NHL goalies when joining the Oilers their performance falls sub par, this suggests to me the Oilers goalie coach is not competent. Every Oiler fan can see that Scrivens should avoid going behind the net because his stick handling needs attention, yet this error is consistently happening in every game. Dubnyk of Arizona gets a shut out against the Kings. Calgary keeps on winning due to superior net minding. I don’t remember a time when the Oilers had a great goalie and that is due to lack of coaching.