Forcing Their Hand

If Darnell Nurse wants to play in the NHL to start the year,
then he’s going to have to do more than prove he can play at that level. What he really needs to do is outplay incumbents to
such a degree that it’s impossible to choose them over him.

One might even say that’s an almost impossible task…if they didn’t
watch the Oilers play in Edmonton last night. The team appears to have a
pretty significant problem with the pairing of Nikitin and Ference. These two
players, by my eye, looked immobile.

We should start by saying it’s
preseason and this was their first game in months, but goodness gracious that
was not a great outing by a couple of players who are competing for their jobs.
And make no mistake, Ference and Nikitin are competing for their jobs. Their
careers hang by frayed bits of thread. Ference is reaching the twilight of his
career at 36 years of age and Nikitin is just months away from the end of his
NHL career if he can’t turn things around.

That’s why it was incredibly disheartening to hear our very
own Jason Gregor report from camp that Nikitin has looked more like a turnstile
than an NHL blue liner. Even Bob Stauffer from the Oilers Radio Network has
commented that Nikitin has had a tough camp to date. It was even more
demoralizing to see $4.5 million dollars on the salary cap get walked around by
the Flames’ nobodies who dressed in the Edmonton game.

Outside of one NHL caliber line the Flames played their
prospect forwards in the City of Champions (or whatever city council wants to
call us now). It’s that fact that makes seeing Nikitin and Ference (though to a
lesser degree) appear slow so frightening. And it would have been nice if Nikitin looked competent during  his six (!) minutes of power play time. Sadly, he did
not.

swayze-farley1

Compare the two lineups and you can see that the Oilers’ D in
Calgary was tasked with a much more difficult assignment. While Nikitin was
taking on Klimchuk, Jones, and Bouma, the squad in Calgary had to deal with
Gaudreau, Monahan, Hudler, Frolik and the best set of puck movers the Flames
have.

Despite the obviously tougher opposing roster and playing as
the away team, Darnell Nurse managed to stand out for all the right reasons. He
showed his mobility, toughness, and finished the game with strong possession
numbers.

We already knew that if you just watched Nurse skate beside
the likes of Nikitin or Ference it wouldn’t look like there’s much of a choice
because Nurse is an incredible skater and athlete, but it’s about effectiveness
too. Being able to skate like the wind is fantastic but if it doesn’t coincide
with getting the job done then it’s just fancy footwork.

For Nurse, though, that skating ability translates to
getting to the puck faster and getting it out of danger areas easier. Nurse
made the highlight reels last night because he took on the 6’7” Hunter Smith in
a fight. It sounds like it was a fight he didn’t have much of a choice partaking in, as
he was asked three times to dance with someone from the Flames.

He took on a giant whose helmet stayed on during the fight
(I know that’s the rule but magically Nurse’s came off), and bloodied his nose
in the process. Actually it looks like his nose exploded, but that’s neither
here nor there. Even though the fight is what most people will remember, it was
Nurse’s puck retrieval skills that caught the attention of the coach before
that. That’s part of the benefit to being an incredible skater.

As for Nurse’s possession, against a stacked Flames roster
on the road he managed to finish the game with a 68% Corsi For with 50% Offensive Zone starts. We’re all in preseason form so just as a reminder we’re talking about the Oilers having two thirds of the shot attempts
while Nurse (and LaLeggia) were on the ice even though he spent half his
time starting in the defensive zone.

It was one game — one preseason game. Even though Nurse
outplayed the men he needed to outplay to earn that spot on the Oilers, it’s
still not enough. He needs to do it again, and again, and again. Nurse needs to
be better than them every time, all the time. Even then it might not be enough
because life isn’t fair. However, he’s starting on the right foot.

  • Still a ways to go in pre-season & a lot of things could happen (injuries, trades etc). Chiarelli is getting what he hoped for & that’s competition in all areas. I would think at the end of pre-season coach will tell PC who he wants to start with & PC will deal with the waivers, trades etc. I will predict Scrivens, Nikitin & Pitlick will be moved in one way or another.

  • A-Mc

    I really wish Nurse had been playing in the game that McLellan was coaching because i think the longer Nurse has head coaching eyes on him, the better his chances are at making the team.

    I watched the Calgary game last night (and again today) and i liked Nurse a lot. I thought he easily stood out as being more effective than both Gryba and Reinhart. I actually think he played similarly or better than Schultz as well (in terms of what SChultz adds).

    I am biased though: Nurse is probably my favorite Oiler and i am most excited to see him make the team; even moreso than McDavid.

    Klefbom can play both sides, so i’d love to see Klef and Nurse play as a duo for a bit. Both big both great skaters and both can move the puck and shoot. Why play Schultz as #3/4 when both these other guys do everything schultz does, but better.

    • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

      On board with you there! Nurse will rule this league in 3 years and I too am very excited to see him make the team. As far as “Coach seeing him good” He stated in his interview that he would watch the game. He will and he will notice. IN the interviews his teammates noticed too. Many credited Nurse with the mental emotional lift that turned the game around. If Nurse continues this leadership we will need him around all year.

  • Mik

    How come stats guys haven’t come up with a fancy stat for fights??? Like a punched landed compared to punches attempt, compared to punches received?? Come on stats guys!!!

  • MacT's Neglected Helmet

    Todd McLellan WILL ice the best team he can when the games start to count. NN will get a ticket out of town and Ference will be in the press box. Nurse will be in the dressing room putting foil on his knuckles.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    It was just a preseason game and most of what I saw was people out of step with each other. Not a lot to take away except the fact that NURSE held his own in all aspects of the game. It will be fascinating to see if Mclellan really is willing to ice the players playing the best. Nurse still has a lot to prove but I sure am cheering for him.

  • Lofty

    Thanks to split squad McLellan got a good taste of what Ference and Nikitin bring to the club playing a rather poor Flame team that played here last night . More importantly , he learned what they no longer bring in the way of production and being difference makers . Reinhart , Gryba and Nurse all showed they can be difference makers at this early stage against a stocked and shocked Flames club in Calgary . This trend I believe will continue . Only one game , but a definite eye opener on who seems to be rounding out our defence , and who is falling fast . Experience only is unlikely to get Ference and Nikitin a spot , they now have to earn it , and I doubt either will .

  • Karth

    Everybody relax. Why does everyone get so ruled up and start to get tunnel vision on players. It happens all the time. In the nation a player is either absolutely amazing or a turd. Bob and Jack both said that Nikitin looked good in the 3rd peiord. Exact comment was that he looked good and steady and has gotten better as the game went on juts like the rest of the team.

    Everybody relax.

  • bradleypi

    I truly believe Nurse could benefit from a whole season in the AHL with first line minutes. I also truly believe that he’s currently better than Ference and Nikitin.

    I liken it to Justin Schultz, who was clearly better than Theo Peckham but should’ve finished the season in OKC (winning the scoring title and perhaps would have experienced a deep playoff run).

    But unlike Schultz, I don’t think we’ll look back at any decision with regret. This is partly because Nurse would play reasonable minutes in the NHL.

    What I’m saying is that I’m OK with any decision here. Sure, it would be nice to ice the best possible team, but if another year of development turns nurse into Pronger 2.0, I’m all for that.

  • mcjesus take the wheel

    Weird. You bash Ference and NN for their game last night and the bunch of oil nation idiots jumps on board with you. I didn’t watch most of the Edmonton game but when I tuned in in the 3rd period for a bit I heard Jack Michaels and Bob Stauffer going on about what a great game Nikitin had played and had redeemed his bad start from camp. I wonder who I’m going to believe more???

    • Believe who you want. There’s the guys paid by the Oilers during an Oilers broadcast and then there’s someone completely impartial. I heard the same comment you did, immediately mentioned how off base it was on Twitter. But please, continue making whatever weak point you were trying to make.

  • freelancer

    mcjesus take the wheel is starting to get on my nerves. Everyone has their own opinion and that’s great. Unfortunately that poster doesn’t seem to think differences in opinion are allowed and resorts to insulting those who think differently.

    • mcjesus take the wheel

      I don’t mind opinions. Differing opinions are allowed and results in good discussion. It’s when guys like Matt insist their opinion is fact that I take offense to it. Just because he is a blogger doesn’t make him any more right than anyone else.

      • freelancer

        You see when you word it like that, completely reasonable sounding. It’s throwing in “the bunch of oil nation idiots who agree with you” that gets old. You can dislike what Matt writes but don’t attack others who agree with him.

      • mcjesus take the wheel

        Hey guy…. Stop making sh** up. I listen to Gregor and stauffer everyday…(I prefer Gregor myself) Stauffer’s a little more polite being the company guy and all… But both of them have acknowledged that Nikitin hasn’t looked sharp.. Maybe you spend too much time on the twit machine?

        • mcjesus take the wheel

          Hey buddy. I’m not your guy.
          And I didn’t make anything up. I don’t go on twitter you twit. Matt is the one who said he heard them say it then went on Twitter.

          Go watch the game and listen to what they say.

          • mcjesus take the wheel

            So… You don’t go on Twitter, but you saw it on Twitter?!? My bad, I’m confused! Maybe you got a case… But I never heard stauffer say it… And trust me, I’m the last guy who’s gonna stick up for stauffer… But facts are facts, and I didn’t hear him say it…

          • It was an in game comment by Jack Michaels that came shortly after he was turnstiled so I made a note of how obviously wrong it was. It was a quick comment by the radio broadcast. That’s all. McJesus is just trying to troll the blog as he always seems to do with my posts.

          • You wrote this on Twitter: “Michaels thinks Nikitin has had a good game. I can drink the Koolaid, but I have limits.”

            I didn’t hear Michaels or Stauffer say Nikitin played a “great” game and you didn’t either or you would have used great instead of good.

            So what we’ve got is mcjesustakesthewheel exaggerating what was said by the broadcasters in comment 77 and then compounding that by suggesting you heard them say the same thing (comment 107).

            Seems to me something simple, like, “I didn’t hear Michaels or Stauffer say Nikitin played a great game, did you?” could have shut this guy down about 30 comments ago. But that’s just me.

          • This is also a poster who believes I’ve never been right about anything and that Nation posters are idiots for agreeing with me. So I’m not exactly convinced this particular troll is interested in reasonable discourse.

          • mcjesus take the wheel

            You are very wrong Robin. Go re watch the game then come back and apologize.

            And that’s also really objective of you to “shut this down”. Why not just admit you don’t know what was said and quit trying to act like god.

          • I don’t need to go back and watch the game. I listened to the broadcast and I know what was said and what wasn’t. Apologize for what? Act like god?

            Henderson is better at the internet than I am, so if he’s willing to tolerate your act, that’s his call. I will not. One more wrong word directed at me by you and you’re gone, gone, gone. This is your one and only heads-up from me. Your call.

          • D

            Ya!! Come on Robin!! Go re watch the first preseason game! What could possibly be more important??

            My apologies tho… I did a funny internet thing a yapped before I read the ‘One Hundred’ previous comments.. Also… I didn’t even watch the game!!! How dare I say anything?? *hangs head in shame

  • Remember that time Matt Henderson invented New Coke. Passed on the Beatles. And thought the Internet was a fad.

    Good grief the man had return tickets for both the Titanic and the Hindenburg.

    He has been betting against the Globetrotters for 30 years, ” cause the Generals are due for a win.” Oh Matt, your not so much a man, as you are Charlie Brown’s football.

  • mcjesus take the wheel

    Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t… But I know stauffer doesn’t think Nikitin has had a great camp… No matter what he might have said in a sentence during the game