In a season that has seen many Oilers regress from the last, there is one guy who has taken a giant step forward — Darnell Nurse. The man they call Darryl has stepped up to the plate after some fans and media alike were questioning whether or not he could make the jump to become a high-end defender. While waiting for Nurse to do just that, we watched Rasmus Ristolainen, the guy taken with the very next pick, developing faster.
On pace for a career year
Across the board, the 6’4 defender is on pace to have a career year in what, knock on wood, would be his first full NHL season. He played in 69 games during his rookie season in 2015-2016 and 44 last season.
During his rookie season, he averaged a career-best 20:13 minutes a game. It honestly doesn’t feel like he played that much, but it might be because I’ve forgotten that season and only remember him averaging 17:01 last season with a strengthened blue line. This year, Nurse is only averaging 21:34 minutes a game, but it feels like he’s always out there as of late.
One thing that I’ve noticed about Doc this year is that he’s found a lot more Paul Coffey-like tendencies in his game. He’s not afraid to make a rush or bomb a shot, which is a significant change for a player that wasn’t expected to be too much of an offensive threat early on in his career. In his rookie season, Nurse only fired 120 shots on net, but his confidence seemed to grow last year as he put the puck on net 85 times in just 44 games. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he has a steady defensive partner now? Either way, he’s on pace for a whopping 226 shots this year and that’s definitely an improvement!
It goes without saying that when you fire the puck on net, of course, good things are bound to happen. Like I said, Nurse isn’t the most offensive guy just yet, and he may never put up 40 plus point campaigns like Ristolainen, but he is making progress in that area. Currently, in 24 games played, he has seven points (2G, 5A) which would translate to a 24 point year (7G, 17A). Those are respectable numbers for a guy that hasn’t put up more than 11 points in a year.
A more dependable player all around
While I’m praising Nurse for taking a step offensively and endurance wise, it has to be said that Nurse is also turning into a beast in his own end. Jim Matheson touched on that last season, and he hasn’t lost a sense of that style at all. He isn’t afraid to throw the body around, which can make his game so much fun to watch.
On a positive note, Nurse is on track to once again not be a negative plus-minus player. During his rookie season, there were times when it looked like he was in over his head, and the -13 next to his name showed that. As his career has progressed, so has the +/- total beside his name. Last season he was even and this year he’s currently sitting at plus six. Not bad for a guy on a team that has been blown out a few times.
A leader with a proven track record
Nurse isn’t afraid to step in and defend his teammates. A prime example is when he dropped the gloves with Milan Lucic after he railed Lauri Korpikoski. Did Nurse know that he was in over his head? Probably, but he still tried to send a message. This is why you have to love Nurse — he’s a passionate guy who plays with his heart on his sleeve. He’s done it since junior, displayed it on the world stage at the World Juniors and now he’s making it happen at the NHL level. I’m sure as he gets older we’ll see an A stitched onto his chest at some point.
This season has been such a roller coaster of emotions. It’s felt mostly downward, but when you sit back and watch Nurse’s progression it makes it a little less painful. I’m happy that he has taken a step forward to become that seventh overall pick we wanted him to be. What do you think of Nurse’s season so far? Let me know below!