With his head coach in place, general manager Peter Chiarelli’s attention will now focus on supplying his new head coach with a lineup that can be competitive.
Will Darnell Nurse be part of the 23-man roster?
It is a great question, and it will ignite a lot of debate.
Nurse is a great skater. He is aggressive. He is strong and extremely competitive. Everyone wants players like him in their lineup. The counter argument suggests he needs experience and there is nothing wrong with honing his skills in the American Hockey League.
Both are valid viewpoints.
What does his GM think?
Chiarelli had a similar situation with Dougie Hamilton. Hamilton was drafted 9th overall in 2011. He spent the 2011/2012 season in junior and then started the 2012/2013 campaign in the OHL. However, when the lockout ended, Hamilton went to Boston and played in 42 of their 48 games and played in seven of their 22 playoff games.
Nurse has spent two full seasons in junior and didn’t have the option of coming to the NHL after a successful World Juniors tournament like Hamilton did.
I asked Chiarelli about Nurse, his viewpoint on young D-men and to compare Nurse and Hamilton.
“For a defenceman, it is harder to break into the league properly. With Dougie Hamilton he had a good strong core around him, and they are completely different players. Darnell is a defender and a puck transporter. He has a few more nuances to learn as far as defending, but I saw him play at the end of his playoffs and he played well. He has world class speed and strength.
That is a hard one (whether he is NHL ready). I want to be patient with these guys knowing that they are good young players and you’d like to have them help you as soon as you can.”
In the regular season the Bruins had Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuck, Andrew Ference and Adam McQuaid as the other regular five D-men. Hamilton played 17:07/game, the 5th most amongst Bruins defenders.
He played 626 minutes at ES, 80 on the PP and 11 on the PK. You might assume he was in the third pairing because of his icetime, but he played most of his ES minutes with either Seidenberg (265 min) or Chara (244). He played 82 minutes with Ference.
When he played 5×5 he was paired and protected by the Bruins top-two defenders. Claude Julien protected him as much as he could.
In Edmonton, McLellan does not have a D-man like Chara or Seidenberg to shelter Nurse, and I’m sure that is the dilemma Chiarelli was referring when he said, “this is a hard one.”
No situation is exactly the same. Nurse is a year older than Hamilton was and his chances of being better than the current crop of Oilers blueliners is higher than Hamilton’s was in 2013, but it also means Nurse will not have the luxury of having elite defenders to play with.
I know one of Chiarelli’s main objectives is to improve the blueline, but he told me on Tuesday, “Acquiring those types of players is very difficult. Everyone wants them, but very few teams are willing to part with them.”
Trading for a top-pairing defender will make the Oilers a better team, but it could also allow McLellan and Chiarelli to keep Nurse in Edmonton. It would benefit the Oilers, and Nurse, to safeguard his entrance into the most difficult league in the world.
The Oilers won’t make a decision on Nurse until the end of training camp. His play will be the ultimate factor in whether he stays or not, but Chiarelli’s moves over the summer will also be a major factor in where Nurse starts the 2015/2016 season.
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