Player Spotlight – Darnell Nurse

#25 LD Edmonton Oilers – 6’4″ 221lbs – Born: Feb 4th 1995 Hamilton, Ontario (26y/o)

When the Edmonton Oilers announced that they would be without defensemen Oscar Klefbom for the entire 2021 season it opened up a significant amount ice time in key situations on the blue line. If you’re mind works anything like mine then you were likely worried about the negative impact the loss of Klefbom would have on the Oilers season. In 2019-2020 Klefbom averaged a massive 25:25 min per game which ranked 5th in the NHL and led the league in shots blocked with 180. To take that player away from any team’s defensive group is daunting, especially with questions surrounding who would fill that role.

Fast forward through 21GP of Oilers hockey and you won’t find too many people in the Edmonton media talking about Oscar Klefbom or the void that he left. That’s because Darnell Nurse has given them no reason to. He is the unsung hero of this hockey team playing in the shadows of McDavid (38pts) and Draisaitl (33pts). Nurse isn’t just “getting the job done” he’s playing tough minutes and proving that he can be used as a dependable shut down defensemen or as an offensive weapon. A aspect of credit needs to start going his way while the Oilers climb the North Division standings week over week.

EDMONTON, AB – JANUARY 31: Darnell Nurse #25 of the Edmonton Oilers smiles at fans prior to the game against the St. Louis Blues on January 31, 2020, at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Stats through 21GP
  • 6G/10A/46SOG/33Blk/52Hits/23PIM
  • +14 tied for the team lead with Leon Draisaitl
  • 25:30 Average Time on Ice per game – Leads team and ranks 8th in the NHL
  • 13% Shooting percentage
  • 0.76 PPG average
  • Top pairing with Tyson Barrie as his partner
  • Playing on PP2

The pairing of Nurse/Barrie get full credit for the outstanding production from the Oilers blue line this season. Both players have spent time on the teams top PP unit this year but the play of Nurse at both ends of the ice is what sets him apart. We know that a 13% SP and 0.76 PPG pace isn’t a sustainable pace for Nurse, who in his career has a 4.3% SP and a 0.37PPG average, but it speaks to the progress he has made this season with the added opportunity. Additionally, while some say that a player’s +/- isn’t a good indicator of individual performance I argue that an increase from a (-2) in 2019-20 to a (+14) in 2021 is worth a mention when you look at a players development. Whether you compare his 2021 performance to his career stats or those of 2019-20 its a resonating difference which most importantly correlates with the success that the team is having.

Drafted 7th Overall by Edmonton in 2013
Darnell Nurse, second from right, a defenseman, stands with officials from the Edmonton Oilers sweater after being chosen seventh overall in the first round of the NHL hockey draft, Sunday, June 30, 2013, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun) ORG XMIT: NJJC125
Contract scenario

In February of 2020 Nurse signed a 2-yr bridge deal with Edmonton with an AAV of $5.6M. The deal was team friendly, accounting only for 5.6% of the teams total cap and gave Nurse an opportunity to bet on himself and prove his worth long term. Given the development as a player, leader and the production since signing that deal its easy to say that he is outplaying his contract at 5.6M/yr.

This is where things are going to get difficult for GM Ken Holland and exciting for Darnell Nurse’s bank account. Since being drafted in 2013 Nurse has consistently developed year over year, he’s progress exactly as well as the team could have hoped and figures to be now working himself toward the top tiers in the league. On the open market as a UFA in 2022-23 Nurse could expect to see 8.0M+ per year for 5+ seasons. If I’m Ken Holland, which I’m not, I’m looking at the deal which Vegas signed 31y/o Alex Pietrangelo to at 7-yrs 61.6M with an AAV of 8.8M as a scenario you have to prepare for over the course of the next year and hope that the negotiations go favorably for the team.

Team Canada
Photo Credit – The Hockey News https://www.si.com/hockey/news/oilers-prospect-darnell-nurse-aims-for-team-canada-spot

Too bold? Well I don’t think so. Should the NHL players compete in the 2022 Olympic games, which at this juncture are difficult to assess whether or not they are played given the impact COVID-19 has had worldwide, Nurse is going to leapfrog a few players currently ahead of him for Canada’s LD list. Morgan Rielly, Thomas Chabot, Cale Makar, Shea Theodore – these are household names who are well regarded across the NHL as top end players for their respective clubs. Well unless you’ve had your head burried in the sand you know that by comparison in the current season Nurse sits right next to those names.

While we’ve noted that 2020-21 has been a productive season for Nurse an additional thought to entertain in comparison to the players currently thought to be ahead of Nurse is the aspect of toughness which he brings in his game. Nurse isn’t shy about the use of his physical attributes, he is T-17th in the league with 53 hits. That is well ahead of Rielly, Chabot, Theodore and the expectations for Cale Makar in a full season to date.

Last Words

The development of Darnell Nurse is bringing credit back to a defensive program which had been viewed very poorly over the past decade, specifically when it comes to player development. Call me an optimist, but I view the curve from here with Darnell nurse to continually rise year over year and would like to see him in an Oiler uniform through the contracts of both McDavid and Draisaitl. Together, I feel these players give Edmonton the key pieces of a Stanley Cup contender.

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