Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Paging Nurse to the Top Unit

In the NHL, the phrase “next man up” has been uttered or mentioned thousands of times. It is virtually impossible in a salary cap era to ensure you have enough top-end talent ready to replace one of the best players on a team when injuries occur, but teams are always hopeful the players they have are capable of filling in when needed. And often it isn’t the lack of having one player capable of stepping up. The bigger challenge is when the third pair defender has to jump up to the second unit.

Oscar Klefbom broke two fingers last night and will be out of the lineup for weeks, and could require surgery depending on what the doctor determines during the examination. That means Darnell Nurse and some other D-men will see their minutes increase. It is expected Nurse will slot in on the top pair beside Adam Larsson, and it is very possible he’ll also take Klefbom’s spot on the first unit powerplay.

Klefbom has averaged a team-high 25:25/game, and he was closer to 26 minutes/game until he was injured last night and only played 10:36. Losing Klefbom is a big blow for the Oilers. He was playing his best hockey of the season, and more accurately his best hockey of the past two seasons, before being injured. Klefbom had 3-4-7 in his previous eight games prior to breaking his finger. His confidence in the defensive and offensive zone was very noticeable, and his injury will have a significant impact on the entire defence corps.

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Continuity is key for any defence pairing. Klefbom has played 88% of his 5×5 time with Larsson this season. He’s logged 577 minutes at 5×5 and played 509 with Larsson, 32 with Kris Russell, 16 with Matt Benning and the other 20 was split between Evan Bouchard, Darnell Nurse, Kevin Gravel and Chris Wideman.

Now Larsson will need to adjust to a new partner in Nurse. The good news for them is they played 820 minutes together last season. When they were together they had solid numbers, out shooting the opposition 445-419 and outscoring them 33-25, and they did so facing a lot of top competition.

This season Nurse has been more productive offensively than Klefbom at 5×5. Nurse has produced 2-7-9 while Klefbom has 0-5-5 with both playing almost identical minutes, with 574 and 577 respectively. However, Nurse has given up more goals with a GF-GA rate of 19-25 compared to Klefbom’s 18-19. Their TOI with the Oilers top three forwards is fairly similar.

Nurse has played 199 with Leon Draisaitl, 180 with Connor McDavid and 163 with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

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Klefbom has skated 257 with McDavid, 204 with Draisaitl and 188 with Nugent-Hopkins.

Nurse is still young in the grand scheme of NHL defenceman, having played 228 NHL games, but in Klefbom’s absence he will need to be more consistent defensively. Nurse is still suspetible to being too aggressive and reaching or attacking, rather than sitting back and making the safe read. He’s improved on his reads, but will likely need to improve even more with Klefbom in the pressbox.

Nurse’s offence has improved and he leads Oilers defenders with four goals. He is averaging 22:05/game, almost identical to Klefbom at 5×5, while Klefbom has played almost 100 more PP minutes. We’ll get to PP minutes opportunities later.


Mar 17, 2018; Sunrise, FL, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his goal against the Florida Panthers with defenseman Darnell Nurse (25) in the third period at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Having Nurse and Klefbom as the top two lefties allowed the coaches to play them equal minutes at 5×5, but I’m not sold Kris Russell can play an extra two minutes/game at 5×5 now and be as effective. The trickle down effect is the most concerning for the Oilers. Right now Russell has the second best GF% among Oilers defenceman. He has been on the ice for 18 goals and only 14 against at 5×5. Only Matt Benning is better at +6 (16-10). Russell’s CF% is 47.3%, but his GF% is great, and I’ve long hoped that one day there is a formula connecting the two. What is the value of GF compared to a SF and vice versa? I’m not sure there is one specific number but for me I’d start somewhere around 10-1 in favour of goals over shots. I came up with that number because the NHL average is around 30 shots/game and three goals/game per team. It would need refining, but I start there. Anyway, I digress.

Russell isn’t as big as Nurse and Larsson, and extra minutes could wear him out long term. I’m sure he can handle it for a few games, but not six weeks. I suspect we will see Russell move back to his natural left side and be paired with Benning, while Kevin Gravel and Chris Wideman will be the third pair. Gravel has been quite steady in the third pair, and I suspect he will see an small increase in minutes as well, most notably on the PK.

Benning has looked really good in the third pair, but early in the season, he struggled in the second pair. He has more confidence now, and he’ll likely get the first look along side Russell.

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The challenge becomes how Trent Yamney deploys his defenders in matchups.

If you look at Klefbom’s top opposing forwards it is clear he faces the toughest competitions. Here’s his most common opponents:

Johnny Gaudreau (21 minutes), Sean Monahan (20) and Elias Lindholm (18).

Anze Kopitar (19), Filip Forsberg (17), William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, Jonathon Marchessault, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jonathon Toews, Tyler Seguin and David Pastnak all 16 minutes.

Nurse’s most common opponents thus far were David Krejci and Jake Debrusk (18 minutes), Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad (17), Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen (15) and Gabriel Landeskog and Nicklas Backstrom (14).

Nurse will now elevate and play the top lines even more, but that means Russell/Benning will need to face the opponents Nurse used to. It will be a challenge.

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It is very difficult to prepare properly for injuries to a team’s top defencemen. Every team in the league would feel the crunch, and while much of the focus will be on Nurse, I’ll be looking at the second and third pairs to see which of those four players are able to handle a bigger role. They all want the opportunity, now we’ll see if they can succeed with it.


I’m interested to see who gets Klefbom’s minutes on the PP. Last night it was Nurse and he scored the first powerplay goal of his career in the third period. Matt Benning also produced a point assisting on Nugent-Hopkins’ second period goal.

Nurse, Benning or Chris Wideman are the options to see #1 PP time. The last few games the Oilers have been running two D-men, Nurse and Benning, on the second unit. Would they continue that with two righties in Benning and Wideman, or does it make more sense to have Benning on the top unit as a second right shot option and have Nurse with Wideman on the second unit?

Ideally, you’d want three lefts and two rights, or vice versa, on your top unit because it gives you more options. The other reason I’d consider Benning on the first unit is it would limit Nurse’s PP minutes, and allow you to play him more, theoretically, at 5×5.

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Wideman is the wild card. I don’t expect him to get a look right away on the top unit, but he was a highly offensive D-man in the AHL. In Ottawa, he wasn’t getting a lot of first unit PP time with Erik Karlsson ahead of him, but I wonder if he can play well at even strength, and create some looks on the second unit if they consider promoting him.

The next six weeks will be interesting to see who, and in which situations, Ken Hitchcock and Yawney deploy the defence.

Who would you want to see on the top PP unit?


Thanks to Jnose for his awesome bid on the Manny Viveiros coaching package.

Day Eight: Furnace or AC Unit

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There are two items up for grabs, and the winning bid can choose which one they want.


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  • City permit and City inspection fees
  • Removal and disposal of old furnace
  • 2 year labour warranty
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  • One Daikin 16 Seer Central Air Conditioning System
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You will receive a site visit from one of their comfort advisers before installation to take measurements and determine proper size of Air Conditioning system/Furnace for your home and where it will be installed.

You can bid by listening to TSN 1260 and calling 780.444.1260 or text 101260 between 2-6 p.m. today.

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  • Pub party for 10 at Urban Tavern Includes meals and beverages for all.
  • $400 GC from Urban Tavern as well as a Lobster Boil (for eight).
  • Pair of tickets (row 23) to the Oilers/Flyers game this Friday.

You can bid by calling 780.444.1260 or text 101260 between 2-6 p.m. today.

Thanks in advance. All proceeds will help out Operation Friendship Seniors Society.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Consultant

    Thought Gravel had a heck of a game last night too. Imagine he will now be in the line-up each night and should get some more minutes. Benning is tough as nails but I worry about him breaking down. All and all everything will be okay, I think this is the chance Nurse needs to prove to himself and Oilers coaching staff that he can be a top pairing guy.

  • Hemmercules

    This is pretty bad. I have a sick feeling about this. How do you replace your top dman on a team that’s already got a fairly week defence? I hope some guys can step up but that’s a ton of hard minutes to replace.

      • Hemmercules

        Goaltending has been much better the past few weeks as well. I just don’t think their D is deep enough to absorb the loss of 25 minutes night. One second pairing is Benning and Russel now. Those two have been playing pretty good but can they keep that up with even more minutes?

      • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        $9,667,000? Is that all, hah! That’s like Shea Weber or Victor Hedman and a cup of coffee.
        Hell, we can only put two D men on the ice at one time. We’ll be fiiiiiine.
        Some day we’ll look back on this broken finger problem and laugh. Nurse will bring it all together.

  • KMA

    Nurse has already proven he cannot perform as a top pairing D-man. Forced to play more minutes in that position will demonstrate the weakness of his game. This doesn’t mean he is a failure as a first round draft choice, it simply means he has reached his level of competence and it is unfair to expect a greater upside.

    • jcapss

      I think you guys are forgetting that last year when nurse played top pair he finished with 26 points and +15 rating. He’s stumbled out of the gate this year and looked lost many times but I wouldn’t count him out to pick up his game and find a similar if not greater level. With hitch and yawney behind the bench I for sure think it can happen.

    • GinYYC

      Nurse has 228 games. 300 games is when most D settle in and start to get it. Last year when Nurse “proved” he couldn’t handle 1st pair minutes he had what, 150 games or so? Give the kids some time, they may just develop and surprise us. Nurse is far from proven, one way or the other. Personally, I’d bet on him being a top pair D man during the 2022-2023 season, hopefully for the Oilers.

      • KMA

        You’re right, I for one will be surprised if in 4 years Nurse will be a top pair D-man. If that were to become reality then the real question is, what would that say about the rest of the defense?

    • ed from edmonton

      I am not that concerned about Nurse on the first pair with Larsen. He handled it well last year. More concerned if the bottom 4 can hold their own.

  • jesse says yep

    How can anyone’s play be evaluated on the 2nd pp unit? That mess is not worth the 30 seconds they get… They would be better off throwing out the Brodziac line and hope one bounces in off of Looch

  • TKB2677

    Nurse held out for a long time thinking he was worth more because he felt he was better than the Oilers currently thought. When he finally signed, he said he could be more. Time to see it.

  • TKB2677

    While I do not think Nurse has been terrible, other than last night, I haven’t been overly impressed by him to date. I think so far he hasn’t been as good as he was for the bulk of last season and I am definitely glad they didn’t sign him to longer than 2 yrs for anymore money than he got. It’s still up in the air what he could be.

  • BR

    Get Wideman up to speed quickly and use him as a specialist PP option – he’s got a excellent history running the point and has a wicked shot. Would be a good different look for a rather stagnant PP. Or Call up Ethan Bear and get him some looks.

    Don’t mind the idea of dressing 7D and sitting Rattie/Zykov/Spooner – Double shift McDavid/Hopkins/Draisaitl on a rotating basis depending on who’s hot / can handle more minutes.

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    Great…well let’s hope things are better this year than they were last year. On the plus side, Mikko Koskinen (.936 sv%) and Cam Talbot (.925 sv%) have been solid since Hitchcock has taken over, so this should help things. But yeah, it’s a blow for sure. Klefbom was playing well and he was starting to get off the schnide offensively as well.

  • Abagofpucks

    KMA i think your wrong about Nurses upside. If you think he has reached his maximum potential at 23, then i have to ask you why you think this. Please do explain.

  • Kepler62c

    I’d put Widemen there – why not see what he’s got? They already know he’s no world-beater 5×5 so to get good value out of him they should play to his strengths.

    Nurse – Larsson
    Russell – Benning
    Gravel – Wideman

    #1 PP – Wideman
    #2 PP – Nurse, Benning

  • Redbird62

    I am sure this is not how Nurse would want it to come about, but Klefbom’s and the team’s unfortunate luck present him with the opportunity to step in and demonstrate he is on his way to being worth a healthy raise at the end of his bridge contract. With the better commitment of the forwards to overall team defense plus the the phasing in of Hitch’s zone defense concept, hopefully Klefbom”s ultimate replacement at the bottom of the rotation will be helped to look better than they might have if the team played like it had in the last 101 games before Hitch.

  • ziyan94

    Hope Wideman gets PP1 time. We brought him in for his puck-moving ability, did we not?
    And it would give Nurse a bit of a rest from the heavy minutes he’s going to be playing

  • Ryan Jones Is Still My Hero

    It will be interesting how Benning and Wideman perform in Winnipeg, I think that’s the litmus test Hitch will use to see if the group as it stands can survive in the West without Klefbom. I don’t think Garrison is a viable option at this point, especially not with Russell and Gravel clearly above him on the left side. Jones has been playing RD with the Condors for most of the year so it will be interesting to see if they give him a look. I would love to see Bear get a chance as well but it sounds like Jones has clearly been better so far this year. Lots of opportunities for guys to step up anyway, we just need someone to take advantage of it.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Nurse has been a mixed bag this year, at the start of the year he didnt really seem to sure of himself with his puck decisions, he has been better as of late. The Oilers have to hope like hell that Nurse can step up and eat some minutes, but he will need to bring his A game to manage it, Kelf’s spot and minutes aren’t easy to eat, so to say Nurse is going to have his hands full is an understatement

    We will see how it all shakes out next game, let hops steady Darnell comes out of hibernation

  • Real Oiler Fan since 83

    I know how we can do this. I think we should put Mcdavid on the top D pairing with Larsson then next shift put him out at center. And so on and so on. Play him 40-45 mins a night until Klefbomb returns. Your welcome 🙂

  • Old school

    Nurse wants to be paid like the big boys now he gets a chance to pull his big boy pants on .. has all the tools but continues to lose focus and gets caught puck watching too much .. he needs to step up but it will take a team effort maintain winning ways

  • ed from edmonton

    Losing Klef is a blow but at least it’s not Larsen. How nervous would we be if Benning is the lone RHD. There has been a lot written about lack of wingers. I have been more concerned about D depth which will be now tested.

  • ed from edmonton

    I am not that concerned about Nurse on the first pair with Larsen. He handled it well last year. More concerned if the bottom 4 can hold their own.