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Photo Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Game Notes Oilers vs Blackhawks: McDavid and Nurse

When Connor McDavid leaves practice early because of a leg injury/issue sustained in the previous game, it is a big story. Oilersnation will be slightly on edge this morning waiting to hear if McDavid will play tonight. He is the most dynamic player in the NHL, and when you add his injury is on the same knee he rehabbed all summer, after tearing his PCL, it is understandable why fans are worried.

However, it is just a bruise above his knee. If it was serious he wouldn’t have skated yesterday for the first part of practice and then told everyone what his issue was. James Neal, who skated last week, didn’t skate today and seemingly has had some sort of setback to his ankle. Keep in mind the Oilers haven’t come out and said specifically what his injury is, but I’m told it is an ankle sprain.

If McDavid’s injury was a concern he likely wouldn’t have skated, and then talked openly about it after practice.

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1. I think McDavid will play tonight. That is a guess. I don’t have any inside intel on this. I say it because he skated yesterday, but also due to how his teammates were making joking comments when he addressed the media. One yelled out, “He has a peg leg,” clearly making light of some being overly concerned about a bruise. A bruise will cause some discomfort, and he and the trainers will do everything to loosen up his lower thigh this morning and again prior to the game. He also could easily not play as deep bruises can get worse over time. It is a 50-50 guess at this point.

2. McDavid explained the bruise is not connected to the previous PCL damage on his knee. “It’s a completely different part (of the leg). Nothing that was hurt before hurts now. That’s good news,” he said. “It’s just a little sore and swollen. I took an extra day here and will see how it feels tomorrow. It’s kind of the Charley horse, the lower part of the quad, top of the knee part (of his leg).”

3. Darnell Nurse is in the final year of a two-year contract with a $3.2 million cap hit, which is the 107th highest cap hit among NHL defenders. Nurse has given the Oilers excellent value based on his on-ice production and play in relation to his salary.

4. Since the start of last season Nurse sits 33rd in points by defenceman. He is tied for 17th in even strength points and is tied for 11th in 5×5 points. He has been able to add offence at 5×5, a very high level, which is extremely valuable. He doesn’t play much on the powerplay, so he will likely never put up huge offensive numbers, but contributing at that rate at 5×5 is impressive.

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5. Among D-men who have played at least 2,000 minutes since the start of last season, Nurse sits 74th in CF%, 78th in FF%, 77th in SF% and 64th in GF%. As many know, goaltending is a big factor in GF% for defenceman, as does the overall skill of your linemates in any stat, and at this current cap hit Nurse has been really good value for the Oilers. Since the start of last season he has played the third most minutes in the NHL at 5×5 with 2596. Only Drew Doughty (2,666) and Ryan Suter (2,633) have played more.

6. Nurse’s new contract, $5.6million AAV for two years, currently puts him 36th highest among D-men. But others, like Alex Pietrangelo, Tyson Barrie and more, will sign for more this summer, so Nurse will start next season somewhere in the 40s among AAV for D-men. If he maintains his current EV and 5×5 point production, and continues to improve defensively, he should be a solid contract for the Oilers.

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7. The other factor, which is more difficult to evaluate, is his impact as a leader and personality in the dressing room. I’m a big believer in continuity and leadership and you need to have players who can stand up and say the uncomfortable things, to any teammate, including the best players, and Nurse is that guy on the Oilers.

8. McDavid shared this when I asked about Nurse.

“On the ice, his game speaks for itself. Off the ice, he brings a lot of personality, and a lot of energy. He does a lot for the guys in the room and I’m lucky to call him a teammate and a friend. I got to live with him for a couple of years and he’s definitely a guy I’m close with, so I’m happy he’s going to be around for a little longer,” said McDavid.

I followed it up asking about Nurse’s personality and the leadership role he has taken on.

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“He has definitely grown into that, but he’s always had that kind of charisma and that kind of leadership. He was a Captain in junior, he knows what it means to be a leader and that is just how he is. He’s a leader whether he likes it or not. He likes that role. He does a great job with that role and I know all of his teammates love him,” said McDavid.

9. Alex Chiasson, who won a Stanley Cup in Washington, said this about Nurse.

“One thing that is special about Darnell is that he is an upbeat young kid, but he is really focused within his own game as well,” said Chiasson. “When you look inside a locker room, and I was lucky to be part of a championship team, there’s a lot of different elements and you need guys to be themselves and everyone needs to kind of fit together. He brings an element that is really unique to himself. He’s a great core guy, and even though he is a young guy, he doesn’t act like a younger player. He acts like a guy who is 30 and has been in the league 8-10 years. He’s a key part of this team.”

10. I disagree with the notion the Oilers can walk away from Nurse in two years because they have Caleb Jones, Dmitri Samorukov and Philip Broberg in the system. In two years the Oilers should be a team contending for the Stanley Cup. Their core players will all be in their mid-20s and expecting any of those three to be better equipped to handle top-four minutes than Nurse is wishful thinking. Samorukov is still learning in the AHL and not playing top minutes. Broberg likely will spend another season in Sweden next year and then might start the following season in the AHL or more likely in the third pairing for the Oilers. I’m not sure Jones is a top-four D-man on a Cup contending team. Unless one of them makes a massive and surprising jump over the next 24 months I’d be very surprised if Ken Holland lets Nurse walk in free agency or trades him away. I see him as a core player.

11. Ethan Bear heard the National anthem sung in Cree prior to Saturday’s game against Nashville. It was the first time since he was 12 years old he heard it played prior to one of his games. It was a very special moment for him.

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“I never thought I’d get that opportunity in the NHL, said Bear. “A lot of fans are First Nations people, so I think they are all very proud. I like how they sung it half and half, so people who don’t understand Cree could hear the English part and knew what part of the song we were on. I thought it was pretty cool. I really enjoyed it. I was listening to the anthem a bit more intently than usual. It was a proud moment thinking about where I’m from. I had family at the game and we all really enjoyed it.” It would be a nice touch by the Oilers to do this more often.

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12. Both Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner are UFAs at the end of the season. Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman should be looking to re-sign Lehner over Crawford. Lehner is seven years younger and turns 29 this summer. He has a .923Sv% this season in 28 starts while Crawford has a .912 in 27 starts. Over the past three seasons Lehner’s SV% has been .908, 930 and .923, while Crawford has gone from .929 to .908 and now .912. His numbers are going down, while Lehner has improved once he came out and announced he battles mental health challenges. There have been some rumblings the Hawks might trade Lehner at the deadline. They’d be much better off to lock him up to a contract for the next few seasons instead of trading him for a draft pick and/or a prospect.

13. Here is the Oilers scoring last year compared to this season, though 55 games, as well as the Blackhawks’ scoring.

TEAM TOP-5 FORWARDS REST OF FORWARDS DEFENCE
2018/19 105-135-240 31-52-83 20-72-92
EDMONTON 108-155-263 44-59-105 18-83-101
CHICAGO 90-116-206 47-82-129 23-73-96

14. Hawks’ rookie Dominik Kubalik has 22 goals and 20 of them, most in the NHL among rookies, have come at even strength. Martin Necas and Denis Gurianov are tied for 2nd in EV goals with nine. Kubalik has been a wonderful find for Chicago. He was drafted in the 7th round, 191st overall, by the LA Kings in 2013. He played two more seasons in the OHL, but then returned to the Czech Republic to play pro. The Kings didn’t offer him a contract and no one drafted him in 2015. He played four years for Plzen HC in the Czech Republic elite league, and then the previous two seasons he skated for Ambri-Piotta in the Swiss elite league. Chicago signed him last May to a one-year ELC contract and he’s been a great find for them.

THE HAIR MASSACURE

Hair Massacure is taking over Edmonton this winter to support the fight against childhood cancer and grant wishes to some extraordinary young patients. On February 21, 2020 thousands of heads will be shaved, once again, in honour of the journey of sick children losing their hair due to chemotherapy. All funds raised go to Children’s Wish Foundation and Terry Fox PROFYLE. You can help. Go to www.hairmassacure.com to learn more.

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