Darnell Nurse has slowly become a solid top-four defenceman for the Edmonton Oilers and his play over the last two years is a big reason for that.
Over that time, he’s scored 74 points in 153 games — 31st amongst all defenceman. It’s been a great burst for the Oilers as they’ve been longing for a defenceman who can put up points like that.
His underlying numbers have teetered on being really poor, but he’s managed to keep his head above water and this year was no different. At 5v5, he posted a 48.68 CF%, 47.41 GF% and a 48.97 xGF% this season. Not great, but not terrible either.
Looking at his isolated impacts, Nurse provides five percent more offence at even-strength than league average, but six percent less defence at even-strength than league average.
This is important to note especially when you take into part his partner this year. Ethan Bear and Nurse played 1152:03 together this year which was by far the most of any Oilers pairing and the young rookie actually helped to stabilize Nurse’s game. Surprising to see from a rookie, Bear’s play was huge to help Nurse.
The Oilers ability to rely on Bear defensively allowed Nurse to jump in the rush more and worry ever-so-slightly less about defensive play. If you want to read more about how amazing Bear is, I wrote about what to expect from him this summer here.
But back to who we’re writing about in Darnell Nurse. Through all his flaws, I’m still a fan of his game. He has great skating ability and can stretch the ice. With that, he has a great ability to carry the puck for the Oilers. Sure, you have guys like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl who do a tremendous job of it, but having a guy or two who can do it from the backend opens up many options.
Heading into the opening of the play-in series against the Chicago Blackhawks, Nurse will do much of what he did this year: play alongside Bear and eat big minutes. Nurse played 23:27 a night in the regular season and I could see that number jumping by a few minutes into the playoffs.
He and Bear will be tasked with eating minutes against Chicago’s top six that features the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome. It’s a formidable group, but I think we’ll see Nurse and Bear flourish against them.
Much of the same can be expected from Nurse if the playoffs continue for the Oilers.
On Twitter: @zjlaing