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Will Edmonton Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse be a Norris finalist?

We’re now hours away from finding out if Darnell Nurse is going to be one of the three finalists for the Norris Trophy as the NHL will name the trio Wednesday morning.

The Edmonton Oilers defenceman had a huge breakout season with the most productive season of his career. In 56 games, he scored 16 goals and 36 points hitting a .64 point per game pace — a sizable increase from his previous career-high of .5 points per game in 2018-19.

While a still flawed statistic, Nurse’s +/- rate of +27 ranked fifth among all defencemen in the league and higher than that of his closest competitors in Victor Hedman, Adam Fox and Cale Makar. That alone will surely help with some voters.

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Nurse’s 16 goals — 15 of which came at even-strength — ranked second in the NHL in scoring by defenceman behind only Jakob Chychrun. His 36 points ranked 16th in the league. His offensive outburst this season didn’t come at the cost of defence, either. At 5×5, his goals against per hour rate fell from 3.11 in 2019-20 to 2.9 this past year. In the same breath, he posted an impressive 3.68 goals for per hour offensively.

Let’s take a look at how Nurse compares to 96 other defenceman who have played over 800 minutes at 5×5:

TOI/Gp 5×5 (all situations) Games played P/60 CF% GF/60 GA/60 GF% xGF%
Nurse 20:40 (2nd) – 25:37 (4th) 56 1.19 (18th) 51.08 (38th) 3.68 (2nd) 2.9 (83rd) 55.91 (28th) 51.45 (45th)
Makar 18:14 (24th) – 24:17 (16th) 44 1.42 (5th) 60.88 (1st) 3.66 (3rd) 2.24 (41st) 62.03 (8th) 61.77 (2nd)
Fox 17:21 (55th) – 24:42 (11th) 55 1.13 (22nd) 49.85 (53rd) 2.7 (36th) 1.95 (15th) 58.11 (20th) 54.22 (17th)
Hedman 18:01 (33rd) – 25:02 (7th) 54 0.86 (42nd) 53.65 (17th) 2.65 (39th) 2.65 (72nd) 50 (59th) 51.31 (46th)

If there’s one thing we can see, it’s that Nurse is up against some stiff competition.

The award, by definition, is handed out to “the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.”

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Nurse’s offensive game this year was where it needs to be. His scoring rate and on-ice scoring rate was among the best in the league and ranking second in goals among defencemen is huge. But defensively, Nurse wasn’t near the top of the ranks. He was right down near the bottom when it comes to goals against per hour, but so did Hedman, who is consistently a front runner for the trophy.

He did play the most games of who I see as “the big four” and played significant minutes for the Oilers in all situations. That will help his case.

His defensive struggles could be his biggest knock against him, but will his offensive output overshadow that? He may not have enough to win the award outright, Well, we’ll find that out in the morning.


Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at [email protected]