No need to “Nurse” his development

Does Darnell Nurse need time in the AHL, or can he step in and help the Oilers right now?

It is one of the burning questions heading into training camp. I believe his play will have the biggest impact on how the blueline shapes ups early in the season.

I don’t mean I expect him to have the largest impact in every game, but he is the biggest wildcard when it comes to projecting how the blueline will shape up.

Most agree Andrej Sekera, Oscar Klefbom and Mark Fayne have a spot in the top-two pairings, but after that it is wide open.

Yesterday, Matt Henderson wrote the Oilers blueline is crowded and mentioned one-way contracts as a key reason Nurse and Griffin Reinhart would start in the AHL. His theory has played out many times in other NHL cities, so I understand his reasons, but in this instance it shouldn’t be a factor.

The talent/skill/ability on the Oilers blueline has been the worst in the NHL for the past five seasons. They must ice the best players, and I believe Nurse is one of them.

The Oilers won’t be afraid to put Nikita Nikitin on waivers and send him to the AHL. If someone claims him, great, if not he’ll be a $3.55 million cap hit playing in the minors. Peter Chiarelli did not sign Nikitin, so he won’t feel any pressure of having a bad contract in the AHL. But more importantly, management recognizes their team’s on-ice performance must improve this season. They can’t make their team worse by worrying about salary or other optics.

They want a competition, and if Nikitin bounces back he will have an opportunity to play. The same goes for Nurse. His age, rookie status or contract status should not be a deterrent if he proves he is one of their best six defenders.


There is also the thought process that Nurse would be better off developing in the AHL. I agree it wouldn’t hurt him, but I don’t think playing in the NHL will stunt his development either.

He skates extremely well.

He is big enough.

He is strong enough.

He will get stronger in the coming years, but he will not be man-handled by NHL veterans on a regular basis this season.

I looked at other D-men who were recently drafted in the top-15, then played two more years of junior and debuted in the NHL at 20 years of age.

Dion Phaneuf (9th in 2003). He played all 82 games and played the most total minutes of any Flames defender in 2005/2006. He averaged the 4th most per game, 21:43, behind Robyn Regehr, Roman Hamrlik and Jordan Leopold. The Flames made the playoffs.

Brent Seabrook (14th in 2003) played on a bad Blackhawks team who finished 28th overall in 2005/2006. He averaged 20:01/game and played 69 games. The Hawks traded Jaroslav Spacek to the Oilers in January and Seabrook played more in the second half. Seabrook and Duncan Keith, after two years in AHL, both debuted in 2005 and started the foundation of becoming one of the best tandems in the NHL.

Jack Johnson (3rd in 2005). He played two years of college after being drafted, was traded from Carolina to LA and debuted with the Kings in 2007. He played 21:41/game, behind Lubomir Visnovsky (22:59) and Rob Blake (22:44) and ahead of Brad Stuart (21:13), Jaroslav Modry (18:34) and Tom Preissing (17:52). The Kings finished 29th.

Marc Stall (12th in 2005) made his NHL debut in 2007 for the Rangers. He played 18:48/game and was the 4th/5th D-men behind Michal Rozsival, Dan Girardi, Fedor Tyutin and Marek Malik. The Rangers made the playoffs and won a series. Stall averaged 22:20/game in the playoffs, second only to Rozsival.

Alex Pietrangelo (4th in 2008) debuted with the Blues in 2010. He played the most total minutes over 79 games and averaged 22:00/game. Eric Brewer (22:14 in 55 games) and Erik Johnson (22:07 in 54 games) played basically the same per game. Barrett Jackman, Roman Polak and Nikita Nikitin all played fewer games and minutes than Pietrangelo. The Blues finished 11th in the west.

Jared Cowan (9th in 2009) played 81 games for the Senators in 2011. He averaged 18:53, 5th most on the D corps behind Erik Karlsson (25:18), Filip Kuba (23:36), Sergei Gonchar (22:15) and Chris Phillips (19:06). The Sens lost in seven games in round one and Cowan was again 5th among D-men with 17:01/game.

Many other D-men drafted in the top-15 since 2003 played in the NHL before they were 20: Drew Doughty, Jonas Brodin, Morgan Reilly, Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, Ryan Suter, Dougie Hamilton, Adam Larsson, Cam Fowler, Erik Gudbranson, Dmitri Kulikov, Victor Hedman, Tyler Myers, Zack Bogosian, Luke Schenn, Erik Johnson and Karlsson.


The Oilers have been patient with Nurse, and many defenders from the previous 12 drafts (not including 2015) played in the NHL when they were younger than he is now. He skates well. He is big, strong and he plays with an edge, something the Oilers desperately lack. I see no reason he can’t make this team.

Phaneuf, Cowan and Stall played on playoff teams, while Pietrangelo played on a below average team and Seabrook and Johnson played on brutal teams. They learned to play in different circumstances, and were surrounded by both good and bad players.

They made teams who in most cases had better overall talent than the Oilers current blueline.

Nurse has been allowed to develop properly, and while some time in the AHL won’t hurt him, I don’t see any reason to assume he must start there.

Based on his quality of competition on the Oilers blueline, I expect we will see Nurse on the opening night roster.

Recently by Jason Gregor:       

  • Spoils

    I wouldn’t be upset if he is on the starting roster, but another perspective:

    Game one Nurse is on the roster, a bit forgotten behind the other rookie. OR Game (2-40) called up when the team needs a boost (on a cold streak or an injury). He walks in with high confidence (because he’s been dominating the AHL) and hungry (cause now he knows he should be on the big team). Having him start with the Oilers is a bit like burning your whole woodpile at once.

  • Spoils

    curious if people would bet that Nurse will some day be in the conversation for a Norris. I know a couple people (fake cough) who think Schutlz has those cards… not to lump them together because Nurse has only impressed, but do people really think our D is going to be good enough as the McD cluster comes online?

  • Randaman

    “IS JUSTIN SCHULTZ THE BEST PROSPECT IN THE NHL?…According to former Calgary Flames general manager Craig Button, the answer is “yes.” For my money, the top spot on the list is a toss-up between Yakupov and Justin Schultz.”
    Jonathan Willis Dec 15/12

    It was a “dog fight” to land this highly touted prospect. In the last two years Schultz was a failure at -17 and -22 carrying top minutes under a number of coaches.

    “Schultz’s experience offers some obvious suggestions. Bring players along gradually. Don’t pointlessly and unrealistically raise expectations. And when a player struggles, don’t be afraid to step down his responsibilities until such time as the struggles stop.”
    Jonathan Willis May 31/15

    I totally agree with Willis!

    Schultz entered the NHL at the age of 23 after half a season in the AHL. Nurse is only 20 and has played major junior and only a handful of professional games. Clearly Schultz had far more experience than Nurse.

    Should we step back and consider that pushing Nurse into the NHL may not be in the team’s and his best interest? If we had one more top 4 D, would we be pushing as hard? I just don’t want to see him go down the same road as Schultz.

    I know this is unpopular but……

    • Spoils

      i wouldn’t stress this. we have enough options that he is not going to be pushed. but why hold him back if he makes the team I think is the point…

      the worry is Nikitin and Ference would be selected for non performance reasons.

      • Tikkanese

        I am almost certain he will make the team. Just not sure that is in his best interest or the team’s. The Oil desperately need to win this year as it has been too long. Sometimes the need to win now is more important than the future of one player. Nurse will be a top D 5-6 years from now if developed properly.

    • I reviewed the top 32 dmen in the comments section here ( )

      20 of them (62.5%) were in the NHL full time in their draft +3 year. Over 90% were full time by age 21.

      If Nurse makes the team this year, it just has to be because he’s shown he’s ready. It’s far from unusual for these guys to be full time nhlers by their draft +3 year. It’s also no big deal if he needs one more year of development.

      Now Griffin is in his draft+4 year…
      If he doesn’t make the team, that is bad news for him as being one of the top 32 dmen in the league. Griffin needs to be a full time NHLer this season if he has any hope of becoming a top pairing guy. Otherwise he will likely peak as a #3-4.

      Schultz entered at 23. That should have been the dead giveaway right there that he would never be more than a #4 with PP qualities. Like a Dennis Wideman type. Used sparingly at EV, never on PK, and gets top PP time.

      • bradleypi

        Based on your stats (20 of them (62.5%) were in the NHL full time in their draft +3 year. Over 90% were full time by age 21) that puts Nurse full time into the NHL next year.

        My only point here was that Schultz was rushed into the #1 D position when he was young and inexperienced against the best in the league and he failed. We set him up to fail (of course he also had a lot to do with it).

        I don’t know if Nurse is ready. I am more about proper player development for the long term than filling a short term need at the possible expense of the player. IMHO Schultz should play on the 3rd D line to try to gain his confidence back – unfortunately we are short one top 4 D so we are stuck. Then the injuries will happen and then we rush more into the breach ….

        Some players like Doughty and Weber are special. Time will tell if Nurse is one. I would rather not take the chance and have him get huge minutes in Bakersfield and be brought up in a minor role (not top 4) when injuries require it.

  • Tikkanese


    Schultz was ready, he’s just been badly mishandled with his ice time in the NHL.

    If Nurse is ready there is no need to hold him back. If he’s getting healthy scratches, he should be in the AHL.

    • Been there

      Big minutes in Bakersfield or small minutes in the NHL? At 20 and as a D (typically take more time to develop than forwards) I would rather see him carrying the load at 22 mins a game and building confidence with success. He is “ready” in that I assume he can play at the NHL level without looking bad. May not be what is best for his confidence. Someone gets injured and now he is in the top 4 D eating 16 minutes a game against top lines with 10 years of making the best D in the world look like fools. Not sure that is good either.

      He is 20 with virtually no pro experience. I am not saying we don’t need a top performing D nor am I saying he can’t be successful. I just think the Oil might be taking more risk than they should with his development. The downside is we burn another great D prospect like JS.

  • Tikkanese

    I would prefer to see Nurse playing on the first pair in Bakersfield than 3rd pairing in Edmonton at the beginning of the season. But I would expect that would amount to no more than 30 games and in the meantime, room be made in the Oiler top four. Maybe once Franson has signed somewhere, Chiarelli can deal Nikitin (retaining major salary of course)

    I can see no downside to Nurse spending part of a season in the AHL.

  • Tikkanese

    Connor McDavid will grab the early headlines but I think that Nurse will be the story of training camp. I wouldn’t bet against him forcing the issue and giving the Oilers no choice but to put him in the lineup.

    • bazmagoo

      I wouldn’t bet against Nurse either. But really the article avoids the real question which is – is it better for Darnell’s development to play 1st pairing minutes in the AHL or 3rd pairing minutes in the NHL? That’s the question. I don’t know the answer, but I have my opinion.

      • Canoe Ride 27.1

        The fact is at some point he has to start on the bottom pairing and work his way up. why with his talent is he not comparable to all the other young talented d’s that have broken into the league recently around his age ? I for one would love to see him in the NHL . he quite honestly would be an upgrade over our existing guys and the sooner he gets acclimated the sooner he will develope in to the player we all agree he will be ! Him and mcdavid smashing into the league together ! Why not ? If he beats out our other options then so be it ! Just because Shultz didn’t do well nurse has size strength and a mean streak none of which Shultz has totally different story in my books !

        • bazmagoo

          Part of the reason I prefer Nurse to play on the 1st pairing in Copperfield or whatever it’s called down there is I really think it’s likely Schultz is a failed experiment. Just a 3rd pairing guy getting paid top 4 money, unfortunately identical to the rest of our defence. Not his fault really, it’s MacT’s mistake. With our current setup on defence, we need Nurse to be able to step up big in 2016/17. More minutes = more experience.

          I’d put money on the Oilers walking away from Justin or trading him in the next 365 days.

  • Been there

    I think this is more complex than most people think and instead of looking at this from a fans point of view I try to look at it from a coaching side, a new coach and staff coming in and learning the team.
    If I had two rookie defensemen competing for jobs, they have to earn 3-4 positions or they go get experience in the minors.
    I have a new goalie coming in and he will probably develop chemistry quicker with veterans.
    Klefbom is still basically a rookie having played 1/2 year or less, then add the additions of two new veterans who not only learning a new system but adjusting to new teammates.
    Up front we have Landers who is similar in experience to Klefbom, then added two new forwards in Letestu and Korpisosky, now add a rookie in McDavid, and the possibility of Drasaitl,
    There is no way until the last two exhibition games when you start playing NHL calibre teams to see how they will really react and perform.
    Realistically I cannot see Mclelland going with 6 rookie calibre players while still adding 5 new players from other teams, just not enough continuity.
    That being said I would expect Nurse and or Reinhart to be the first called up, and probably not long into the season

  • bazmagoo

    Get used to it people , if you want to see any of them in Bakersfield then you do not want to see them or their progress one way or the other because we do not get their games here . The only thing you’ll get are biased koolaid filled messages/reports occasionally . Maybe the odd hilite thrown in . I want to see them here as long as possible if they are good enough for NHL action . I’ll most certainly see little to nothing of them playing in AHL , as most do .

  • bradleypi

    I think Schultz is equal or greater this year as being the wild card.

    Our right side D is weaker then our left. This is likely to push Schultz into the Top 4. His performance is going to win and lose hockey games for us, just like it did last year.

    But the big question is, can he turn the corner, if he is used properly by an experienced coach.

    Schultz of last year should not be on the ice when we are protecting a 1 goal lead in the last 5 minutes.

    • bradleypi

      Wow just wow…. you are honestly saying Schultz’ play was the reason the oilers lost 50+ games last year? This season can’t start fast enough for me and I’m gonna remind all ya about these comments when you try jumping on schultz’ bandwagon when he’s playing better under a new coach and system

      • Al Theeathoone

        I agree completely with you regarding the Jultzers. In fact I have been writing down all the Jultzers (misdirected sheep, blamers, whiners and conflict junkies) names on here for months now. Payback coming soon.

        Come January or so when Schultz is putting up points like a forward – which is what he was brought here to do, I will list all their names on here and you can bash them all you want.

        Schultz was brought here to be an offensive defense man. He was forced into a role that went against everything he was over his entire hockey career.

        MacT and Eakins tried to make plow horses out of Arab Stallions and failed big time.They did it to Yakupov too and nearly ruined him.

        Good coaches (and managements) put their players in positions where they can succeed and not where they are certain to fail. It’s no different than saying let’s see if we can force Ference and Nikitin to score goals.

  • YakCity1039

    I’d still put Nurse in the AHL. If he dominates like Klefbom did last year, then bring him up. Everybody has complained that the Oilers rush their prospects too much, what does it say if Nurse is in the line-up and getting shelled. Let the kid play 25:00/night in the AHL on the top-pairing, get him some experience playing pro, and allow him to put on some more strength, then bring him up in the new year.

  • bradleypi


    As GM I instruct the coaches that I want a proper evaluation of McDavid , Reinhart , Draisaitl and Nurse at the NHL level not at the AHL Level away from us , for at least the first ten games unless any of them show they are not near ready . I want them in their positions to succeed and given every opportunity to do so over those ten games . If they are still our best options , we then can make alternate arrangements for whom best we discard of the vets . We simply do not have sufficient time to properly evaluate them otherwise . That will be our best hope at a fruitful evaluation of them , exhibition season does not give us that , nor does starting them in the AHL . They are here until we can get a proper evaluation done and then decide how we move forward this year and next . Does everyone understand this directive ?

    • Been there

      You have obviously never really coached or been a GM. Having been involved with a junior team and talking with coaches, GM’s and scouts much smarter than myself it is usually the veterans jobs to lose. A rookie can not come close to winning the job, they have to win it outright. They will want to see what the veterans can do, as well as in Edmonton’s case get off to a decent start, not taking a chance on damaging a young players confidence.

      • Been a coach and higher than GM in other walks in life and I’ll leave it at that . Most business will choose the younger usually more skilled productive worker over an aging diminishing one . It’s a tough road keeping aging staff their jobs in todays world . I’ve had several years in union trying to protect them from dismissal , etc.. Having said that , and the nature of the business is to have the most productivity from lineup , I would say the veteran has the job to lose and must prove he is better than his competition for his job . If rookie already at that (his) level , then i’d think the rookie stands a much better chance of being more productive right from the get go . Harsh , but that’s real life reality . I am basically secure in what the veteran can bring or not bring to begin – I should not require much time if any to do that with the veterans . You’ll generally be correct in your evaluation of youngster if you give him more than about 4-5 probationary chances . Most business give them 3-6 months . You want to do a proper assessment of these youngster by NHL standards , not prematurely putting them in The AHL which will shake their confidence right off the bat if they feel they were a better option to begin with . If we look like we will get off to a better start with youngsters then we go with it as we already know the limitations of most veterans . The unknown is the limitations or possible heights of the youngsters , and your not going to find that out in that small sample size called preseason .

  • bradleypi

    The Oilers preseason games will get more attendance, attention and media coverage than a good handful of hockey teams during their season in the United States of Columbias.

  • bradleypi

    Head Coach TM wants to blast out of the gate. That means all of the best players should be on the roster for the season opener.

    Darnell Nurse, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were the cream of the crop in the junior leagues this past season.

    I’m juiced that we will be treated to these three pushing the pace at training camp.

    Tired old D with contracts are going to be swept under the rug and take their place in the history books at the level they have shown previously.
    NHL veterans had better lace up their sharp pro blades a little tighter this fall: their going to need it.

  • Canoe Ride 27.1

    I agree with Gregor on this one if Nurse wins the job outright why would he have to go to the AHL he would be ready now. I hope he makes the team his nastiness is just what the doctor ordered. If you are worried about Connor at all Nurse would be the first guy coming to his aid.

  • Have to agree with Gregs. IF Nurse is one of top six D, he should play. If it means Nikitin gets waived, so be it. That’s the easier call. Where it gets trickier is, what if Nikitin and Nurse both play well and its Ference that’s getting passed by the likes of Nurse and Reinhart? Personally I think neither Chiarelli or Maclellen are here to protect players feelings (or bad contracts previous GM’s signed) and will ice the best team they can… atleast thats what I hope

  • If they are really going to see what Nurse can do then play him and test him in all situations in preseason


    Give him an NHL dman to play with do not pull a Eakins preseason move like he did with Marincin last year and play him with all AHL dman and newbies.

    Lets see what the kid can do!

  • People will soon realize that Nurse will be better than Seabrook, Giordano and Seth Jones, who went ahead of him in the draft. He is the real deal and he was a great pick. He has it all: Speed, great skater, nastiness, toughness, size and some offensive flair. He will be a top defenceman that every team will be seeking for the next 12 to 15 years. He is that great

  • I think there is a good chance we go young with the blue. Always a risky scenario, but let’s face it the vets we have had have not been getting the job done either.

    I see 3 possible scenarios;

    1) Bring in Franson

    Klefbom – Sekera

    Fayne – Franson

    Nurse – Schultz


    Fayne – Sekera

    Klefbom – Schultz

    Nurse – Gryba


    Klefbom – Sekera

    Nurse – Fayne

    Reinhart – Schultz

    In all three of these scenarios we are looking at trading away or burying a vet contract and having one of Nikitin or Ference as our 7th D

  • 15w40

    Simple for me, either Nurse is a regular for the Oilers or he gets sent back to Bakersfield where he will be top pairing playing 25 minutes a night in all situations.

    1st for injury call up to the big club. How much benefit is realized by playing spot duty and being in the bag skate squad after morning skates.

    He does have the inside track on Reinhart where bonus structure cost is concerned I believe. Now who is more likely of the two to reach the bonus triggers is another conversation.

    • If Nurse makes this team, expect him to play the 3rd most EV mins behind Klef and Sekera. He might not get as many total minutes as Schultz, but his EV mins should be higher since he is a superior defender. Schultz gets a big boost because of PP time

      • Train#97

        Listening to McLellan yesterday and one thing he did say very clearly. ” nobody will be playing in the lineup if they are not ready”
        So if Nurse and Draisaitl are in the lineup opening night it’s because they deserve to be playing., and everyone can stop this should he be or shouldn’t he be playing.