When Peter Chiarelli added Griffin Reinhart there was a
sense that he was destined for a job with the big club this fall. There is an
overabundance of defensemen that the team needed to deal with right now, but
Reinhart’s biggest competition might not be from incumbents Ference and
Nikitin. It might be from fellow hopeful Darnell Nurse.
The Oilers opened the door to their development camp and
gave a well needed Oilers fix to any fan who have been dying for on ice action.
It was a chance to see Connor McDavid and the OEG could have sold tickets for
that but they gave it away for free.
In any event, I showed up to see McDavid but left with the
overwhelming feeling that Nurse was going to make cutting him at training camp
a nigh impossible task.
I haven’t had a chance to see Reinhart since he was in the
WHL and even then I must say that I wasn’t a frequent attendee of Oil Kings
games. What we know about him is that he was stud for the Oil Kings in his CHL
days. A real game changer for them.
Jonathan Willis already wrote a piece saying it is too early to write Griffin off, but the former Oil King wasn’t knocking down the door of
the AHL either. We know that he has the support of the GM who made the deal to
get the 21 year old 6’4” defender and that counts for a lot. Nevertheless,
he’ll be pushed by Nurse.
The NHL is a skating league. Has been for some time now. I’m
not saying that Reinhart is Derian Hatcher or anything, but if this was 1998 my
guess is that we wouldn’t be talking about issues with his skating. But it
isn’t 1998 and we know that mobility is more important now than it ever has
That takes me to Darnell Nurse, who has been standing out at
development camp in every aspect of the game, including (and maybe especially)
in his skating. At 6’3” and 213 pounds he has the speed and agility you
associate with much smaller men. He skates backwards better than most of his
peers can skate moving forward.
Against most of the prospects at camp Darnell Nurse was
simply impossible to get around. They couldn’t skate faster than him. They
couldn’t dangle around him. They couldn’t take the puck from him once he gained
The test for Nurse wasn’t against most of the prospects
though. There are only a couple prospects that are in Nurse’s class and they
are Draisaitl & McDavid. The big German wasn’t in Nurse’s group while I
watched on Sunday morning so that meant Edmonton’s best defensive prospect had
only McDavid to test himself against.
How did it go?
He passed with flying colours.
He was the only person on the ice capable of keeping pace
with the NHL’s latest generational player. Nurse is an effortless skater who is
used to playing monster minutes. Truly, the only thing standing in his way is a
lack of pro experience. There’s no substitute for experience and in that regard
Reinhart has a year of pro that Nurse just can’t add to his resume over the
That dearth of experience might end up being the only thing
that keeps Nurse off of the team this fall because he looks like he’s ready for
training camp to begin today. He has the NHL skills but the club might make
their decision based on the belief that he’ll be better playing 22-23 minutes a
night in the AHL than 15-16 in the NHL.
Nurse is going into this season with momentum. He missed a
significant chunk of time with the Soo because of injury but the last half of
his year was everything the Oilers were hoping for. The big boost started with winning
the World Junior Championship where he took home Player of the Game honours in
the gold medal match and was named to the All-Tournament team. He then captained the Greyhounds to a fated matchup with McDavid’s Erie Otters during the OHL playoffs in which
he played every possible second against the best player the OHL has seen in a
generation. After his Jr career came to a close he went up to OKC where he contributed 4
assists in 4 playoff games as well.
There aren’t enough positions to distribute among all the
hopefuls this year. Somebody is destined for the American Hockey League. All I
know after watching Nurse at development camp is that we cannot count this
young man out just yet. No, he doesn’t have the year of experience that
Reinhart does. No, he is not a Chiarelli acquisition and didn’t get the same verbal
push that Reinhart did. Still, this kid has elite skills in almost every facet
of his game and is already battling for that NHL job.
He’s going to make cutting him a painful task.