The Edmonton Oilers have had a dreadful start to the season. It wasn’t totally unexpected if you read my “What You Should Do to Get Ready for the Season” piece it’s not a shock they have gotten off to a slow start. Fancystat fans should be happy though as the Oilers are #1 in the league in Corsi! Unfortunately, they have also had lousy goaltending, porous defence, taken dumb penalties and not enough scoring. It’s been a tumultuous start for most of the team however there has been one positive that may be overlooked: The emergence of Darnell Nurse.
5 games into the season Nurse’s stats don’t necessarily jump at you at first glance – He has 1 assist and is an even +/-. However, he is 2nd amongst Oiler’s Defencemen in SOG and tied for 4th on the team with 14. He’s also 2nd in hits (1 behind Gryba) with 17 and tied for 2nd in blocks (3 behind Russell). What’s more impressive is of the 19 goals against this season the Oilers have given up he’s been on the ice for THREE of them total. In the last 2 games, the Oilers have given up 11 goals and he’s been on the ice for only two of them – neither he was directly responsible for. In fact he did not make a single mistake that lead to a high danger scoring chance in either game.
With Andrej Sekera out for who knows how long and no obvious help on the way, it is imperative that either Matt Benning or Darnell Nurse step up and fill the void. While Benning has struggled to start the season, Nurse has taken advantage. In fact, it’s not hard to argue he has been the Oilers best defenceman by a mile with fellow d-men Oscar Klefbom & Adam Larsson also really struggling.
Breaking down the tape, his one on one defence has improved tremendously. He appears to much more confident than we have ever seen and is quick to jump up and join the attack. His end to end rushes are a thing of beauty. Defensively, what I really like is he’s moving his feet much better in my opinion and is not chasing all the time. His stick is usually in an excellent position when he’s defending and he’s doing a great job of taking the body and taking his man out of the play. He’s calm and cool with the puck no longer just icing it unnecessarily but taking that extra second or two to make a good outlet pass or quite often will just carry it out of the zone with his speed. He’s playing with such great poise right now and is making great decisions. Here are some highlights from the last 2 games to illustrate my point:
Nurse has been a player of much debate over the last couple years. Is he a future Top 4 defenceman, a Top pair guy or an overrated player who’s development has stalled? It’s a small sample size just 5 games into this season but based on his performance up to this point he is playing like a Top 4 Dman AT LEAST. For a team desperate to have someone step up and fill the void with Sekera out that’s great news for the Oilers. Now if the rest of the D-core can just get their act together the Oilers will be in great shape. The team’s overall performance this year so far has been abysmal but there is no doubt though that Darnell Nurse is emerging right in front of us…..
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