A YEAR IN THE A?

nurse ferguson2

Darnell Nurse arrives in pro hockey during a period of transition for the Edmonton Oilers organization. The club is feeling the burden of inflated contracts from under-performing veterans while also wanting to be patient with close to NHL-ready options. We know men like Nikita Nikitin and Andrew Ference have a ‘due date’ that extends to the end of their current deals, but could strong performances by the youngsters during training camp and in the fall hasten their departure?

NURSE!!!

Based on the current depth chart for Edmonton’s defense it’s going to be very difficult to make a case that Edmonton is doing everything possible to make the 2016 playoffs. The recent signing of Cody Franson by the Buffalo Sabres cemented Peter Chiarelli’s 2015-16 defense as being Andrej Sekera, Oscar Klefbom, Mark Fayne and question marks, distant bells and also-ran’s.

Where does Darnell Nurse fit in the current depth chart?

  • Chiarelli: “He’s (Nurse) been a good leader out there,
    but there’s a lot of nuances to a defensive game that he has to smooth
    out. The enthusiasm is there and there’s a lot of good parts, but the
    puck retrievals and when to funnel off passes and such has to get
    better. It’ll come. He’ll skate into a funnel (of players) a bit, but
    those things will come from coaching. He’s exuberant and a real
    coachable kid.”
    Source

A good, veteran organization would make damn good and sure those weaknesses and rough edges were smoothed out with a year (or so) in the minors. I’m not convinced that will be the case with Edmonton for two reasons:

  1. The Oilers are NOT a patient organization. Nurse is 20 years old — that’s ancient for an Oilers first-round pick to play his debut NHL season. The last 20-year pick who waited that long to play his rookie season in the show? Jordan Eberle, 2010-11.
  2. The Oilers do NOT have the kind of depth that allows them the luxury of developing players in a traditional manner.

So, the question (for me) comes down to this: Is Peter Chiarelli willing to flush one season of McDavid’s entry-level deal in order to burn off the Nikitin and Purcell contracts, lessen the blow of a one-year buyout on the Ference contract and use that money to fix the defense next season?

The answer appears to be yes. And part of that ‘flushing’ may be the decision to use veterans like Nikitin in front of Nurse in order to make certain the team has better quality and depth a year from now. I vehemently disagree with the idea of wasting this year, but am on board with keeping Nurse in the minors if there is development needed.

GRIFFIN REINHART

There’s another possibility here and it goes like this: The Oilers, being of sound mind and body, have decided that the ‘fourth’ to Sekera-Klefbom-Fayne is in fact Griffin Reinhart. It would explain the massive draft day trade, Peter Chiarelli’s comments on Nurse (who looked damn good at last year’s TC) and the hesitation to move on guys like Cody Franson this summer.

  • Bob Green at the time of the Reinhart deal: “He’s got elite hockey sense, he’s 6’4”, he’s a defencemen; we need
    defencemen. He won a Memorial Cup, he was the captain. He would have
    taken us there I believe when he was 18 but he got injured in the
    Conference Final that year and we took Portland to six games and maybe
    we could have won that series had we had him in the lineup. Did he
    struggle this year in the American League? I guess he did, but I believe
    in Griffin as a player and I think he’s going to be just fine… He’s a
    horse. He can play all night. He’s 6’4”, he can move the puck, he’s got
    elite hockey sense, he’s got great hands. He’s the complete package that
    you want in a defenceman who is 20 years old.”
    Source
  • Peter Chiarelli to Bob McKenzie (on his believing Griffin Reinhart being an NHL defenseman right now): “That’s
    fair. There’s a little bit of lead time that he has to get up and
    running. He has to make our team. We’ve got 8 or 9 D who are
    challenging. I believe he is, yeah. What I saw from him in the Memorial
    Cup. I know his year last year wasn’t great and there’s reasons behind
    that and that really is—not excuses—but there are reasons that explain
    it. But what I saw in the Memorial Cup is that you’ve got a player here
    who can dominate, that can lug the puck, and that can make plays. And
    for a bigger sized man, he can move well, and I would expect him to be
    in the top 4 at some point.”

Those two quotes, when compared to Chiarelli’s verbal on Nurse, perhaps allow us a small peak into the boardroom on Kingsway and the overall thought process for 2015-16 blue. Reinhart himself seems to have an excellent awareness about what it might take to make it to the NHL and things he needs to work on.

  • Griffin Reinhart on his first year of pro hockey: “I think it
    was a little inconsistent, I had stretches where I wasn’t playing very
    well and maybe a little bit frustrated and disappointed maybe I wasn’t
    up in the big league but when I was playing well I played extremely
    well and was able to keep up—especially in some of the games I got to
    play up in the NHL. I thought I handled myself well and it’s always a
    confidence booster when you do play well at that level.”
  • Griffin Reinhart’s things to work on: “There’s a lot of
    things. I’m always going to work on every part of my game. I think the
    biggest focus is agility, skating and making sure I stay low and in a
    good hockey position. I think sometimes I tend to have straight legs
    almost and that may costs me a little bit, but that’s something I’m
    working on this summer.

BOTTOM LINE

We don’t know what we don’t know, and can only project the past onto the future. I believe Nurse and Reinhart are likely destined to have long and productive careers in Edmonton, but am today less certain of the ‘order of entry’ than I have been in the past. Peter Chiarelli’s words reflect the organization—how can we draw a different conclusion?—and those words suggest Griffin Reinhart is the next man up beginning as soon as opening night 2015-16.

How good can he be? It’s a difficult question to answer. I’m reminded of just how good he looked in junior and especially during the final weeks of his amateur career:

  • Megan Richardson: “What is there to say about
    Griffin Reinhart? Here’s a guy who played probably every even strength
    shift against the Petan line or the De Leo line, two monster entry and
    possession lines. At the beginning of the regular season, those six
    players carried the puck in an average of 84% of the time. And yet,
    playing against that top competition, he had the greatest percentage of
    break-ups and fewest shot attempts against per entry of all Edmonton’s
    defensemen, rivaled only by Irving, who played cupcake minutes. To see
    the true impact he had on entries, we can look at his defensive partner
    Ashton Sautner, no slouch himself, and see how he got burned. After
    seeing this, I don’t disagree with his choice as MVP of the series.”
    Source

Griffin Reinhart could be in the opening night top six for the Edmonton Oilers and might be playing up the lineup by season’s end. Darnell Nurse might spend the season in Bakersfield improving on those things that keep him from the NHL.

Reading the Oilers verbal of recent days, that’s a reasonable conclusion. Is it the right one? I would have signed Cody Franson.

Photo by Rob Ferguson, all rights reserved.

  • I’ll get trashed but I can live with Oscar for a while.

    I think what Nurse brings in terms of raw skill and talent is too valuable for the Oil to not have him in the opening line-up or at least on the team within 10 games.

    Nurse is now 20 years old, and physically he’s a beast already. He can match up to the biggest, baddest men in the NHL game RIGHT NOW. Sure, we will see rookie mistakes. Sure, he needs to tone his game down a bit and work on his positioning and his angles. There is work to be done. Aren’t most players taken in the top 10

    His speed, strength and raw ability will allow him to compensate for a lot of the mistakes he will make. Pair him with Fayne.

  • I’ll get trashed but I can live with Oscar for a while.

    I think what Nurse brings in terms of raw skill and talent is too valuable for the Oil to not have him in the opening line-up or at least on the team within 10 games.

    Nurse is now 20 years old, and physically he’s a beast already. He can match up to the biggest, baddest men in the NHL game RIGHT NOW. Sure, we will see rookie mistakes. Sure, he needs to tone his game down a bit and work on his positioning and his angles. There is work to be done. Aren’t most players taken in the top 10

    His speed, strength and raw ability will allow him to compensate for a lot of the mistakes he will make. Pair him with Fayne.

  • The Goalie 1976

    We are all pained to see McDavid wasted this year, as Chiarelli follows the advice of Howson and MacTavish.
    Playing any part of the NSF is insane.
    Sad prospects ahead as Chiarelli dithers and blundwrs.