When the Edmonton Oilers selected defenseman Darnell Nurse seventh overall in the 2013 NHL Draft, they probably weren’t expecting him to crack their roster until the 2014-15 season, if not later. That doesn’t mean that the blueliner isn’t shooting for a role with the big club.
That said, the 19-year-old seemed to show some self-awareness about his development, which he relayed to the Edmonton Journal.
“Everyone wants to play as fast as possible,” Nurse said. “Playing last year probably wouldn’t have been the best for my development, and you probably take it a little harder when you first get sent down but for me I’m just going to put myself in a position where I’m in the best shape possible and as strong as I can be when September rolls around.”
“I’m close. For sure. I’ve been pushing myself this year to different lengths than I ever have.”
That same article notes that he’s bumped his weight up from 190 to about 205 lbs. thanks to an offseason that’s been friendlier to training than his first summer in the Oilers organization.
A logjam on D?
Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins seems open-minded about the idea, although he also seems leery of setting players up for failure by rushing them too soon. (Some Oilers fans might be sadly nodding their heads right now, as many believe that the organization has been guilty of doing just that in the past.)
Ultimately, the Edmonton Sun’s assessment that there are too many NHL-ready defensemen in front of Nurse is probably most accurate.
The Oilers added Mark Fayne, Nikita Nikitin and Keith Aulie via free agency and also have players like Andrew Ference, Justin Schultz and Jeff Petry (RFA) standing most obviously in Nurse’s way (not to mention other system players who may be deemed more “NHL-ready”).
There’s also the question of whether the 19-year-old would be better served as a lower-pairing or even seventh defenseman with the Oilers or by gaining another year of experience at the junior level. Add that conundrum to the drive not to burn a year off of his entry-level deal and it’s easy to see why Edmonton might want to take the slow-and-steady approach.
As much a Nurse wants to make the team next season, the most realistic path seems to lean toward a rookie year in 2015-16. It’s really just a matter of time, however, as he’s already considered the team’s top prospect in some quarters.