The Edmonton Oilers announced new details about Darnell Nurse’s health on Monday. The second-year defencemen will miss as much as the next 12 weeks of action after undergoing surgery on his leg.
#Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli announces Darnell Nurse underwent surgery to repair ankle ligament & bone damage. He will miss up to 12 weeks.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) December 12, 2016
Assuming that Nurse takes the full 12 weeks to recover, that puts his return date to the lineup near the start of March, with the game against the New York Islanders on March 7 as the exact outer marker. In some ways, that’s not a terrible time to get a player back; the Oilers will still have more than 15 games left in the season, which would mean that Nurse effectively functions as a trade deadline addition.
Still, there’s no question that this is bad news.
Nurse’s play had been erratic in his rookie year. He started strongly, but after a promotion up the depth chart he quickly showed he wasn’t ready for that increased responsibility. This year, he’s been kept in a third-pairing role and for the most part has excelled. His shot metrics are quite strong and while he’s still prone to the occasional defensive gaffe he’s been much more polished in front of his own net.
Particularly encouraging is the fact that he’s played well with very different partners. Edmonton’s third pair has seen both Eric Gryba and Matt Benning on the right side for extended periods, and despite vastly differing skillsets Nurse was effective with both players.
Nobody ever wishes injury on an NHL’er, but that’s especially so for a young player who seems to be coming into his own.
Davidson/Gryba could be options for #Oilers Tuesday vs. Columbus. Fayne further away. Nurse out long term. Update will be given soon.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) December 11, 2016
From a team perspective, this isn’t great news, but it could be worse.
The return of Brandon Davidson and Eric Gryba will go a long way toward replenishing Edmonton’s depth, which has been tested with all of the injuries on the blue line. Davidson in particular should be able to slide right into the third pair LD role without missing a beat. For much of the summer, the question was how the Oilers would fit all of their left-shot defencemen on to the roster, but with first Davidson and now Nurse hurt it actually looks like they have just the right amount.
Then there’s the fact that the team’s stopgap players have actually performed pretty well.
Matt Benning has been shockingly good after being signed as a free agent, and I don’t think it would surprise anybody if he relegates Gryba to the pressbox on a lot of nights, particularly since he brings a puckmoving element that is still in short supply on Edmonton’s back end.
Yet the depth goes beyond that. Dillon Simpson recently became the 10th defencemen to dress for the Oilers in this young season and didn’t look out of place; I doubt the team will hesitate to turn to him again if injuries warrant. Jordan Oesterle, David Musil and Griffin Reinhart all have yet to play a game with the big club and every member of that trio has been pressed into service at one point or other over the last few seasons.
From a personal and development perspective, the loss of Nurse is a major negative. But in terms of winning games over the next few months, the Oilers have to feel good about their ability to fill his spot in the lineup.