Edmonton Oilers player review and 2023-24 preview: Darnell Nurse
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
By Zach Laing1 month ago
Welcome to the 2022-23 season review and 2023-24 season preview player-by-player! In this and other articles, we’ll be, well, reviewing the 2022-23 season of Edmonton Oilers players and previewing their 2023-24 season. You can read about the analytics behind my analysis here.
Welcome back, Darnell Nurse.
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At its core, Darnell Nurse’s 2022-23 season can be split in two. There was before Mattias Ekholm and after Mattias Ekholm.
Nurse’s year and the first half of the season were not pretty. After a 2021-22 season where the defenceman made significant strides on a pairing with Cody Ceci, both of their games slid back last year. For Nurse, it came from him trying to do too much on the ice, which has always plagued him.
In my eyes, Nurse is always at his best when he tries to do one thing. Think back to when he and Ethan Bear were a pairing, for example. Bear’s strong suit at the time was the offensive game and transitioning the puck up the ice, allowing Nurse to focus on the Oilers’ zone first. Think back to the 21-22 season, where Ceci played strong defensive hockey, allowing Nurse to focus on jumping up in the rush and transporting the puck.
Now, think back to just last season, where we saw Nurse trying to do all of the above, wherein he looked, more often than not, like a chicken with its head cut off. Ceci dealt with injury for much of last year, limiting his ability on the ice. Instead of doing the simple thing of rearranging the pairings, the Oilers coaching staff trotted the two out together every night. Not ideal!
But when Ekholm came to town, it took a lot of pressure off Nurse. Pre-Ekholm, Nurse was averaging 23:51 per night of ice time, and after post-Ekholm, that number fell to 22:27. A minute and a half may not seem significant, but it very much is.
At that point, it felt like Nurse’s game improved, and heading into this season, I expect a big year from him. He’ll play on the top pairing once again, but this time around with Evan Bouchard on his flank. As I wrote about early in the pre-season, this pairing will excel for the Oilers.
Nurse won’t have the pressure of being the offensive defenceman having to jump up in the rush all the time with Bouchard being there, and instead will be able to focus on his defence-first game.
NURSE’S CAREER SO FAR
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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