Looking to make the leap: Darnell Nurse

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After three straight years of drafting first overall and selecting skilled forwards, the Edmonton Oilers had the seventh overall pick in 2013, which they used to take hard-nosed defenseman Darnell Nurse.

“I really believe that this guy’s going to have an incredible impact on our team,” general manager Craig MacTavish said at the time.

“He’s a guy that over time — we’ll be patient with him — is going to provide us with the toughness. And he’s the guy that will ride shotgun for a lot of our first overall picks, our skilled players, for a lot of years.”

Nurse, an admirer of the way Chris Pronger played, didn’t make the leap to the NHL as an 18-year-old, and now there’s a debate over his ability to do it at 19. Some say another year in junior, with the opportunity to play for Team Canada at the World Juniors, would serve him well in terms of proper development; others argue he could develop bad habits out of boredom, and that’s he’s as ready now as he’ll ever be.

The Edmonton Journal’s David Staples is of the mind that Nurse is a long shot to make the Oilers next season:

There’s certainly no imperative for the Oilers to rush Nurse. Edmonton has decent veteran depth. AHL vets Martin Maricin and Oscar Klefbom, two highly-skilled prospects, will compete for the sixth defenceman job. So if Nurse is to move up, he’s going to have to beat out Marincin and Klefbom, which is unlikely.

Nurse, however, thinks he’s “close” to earning a spot on the big club.

“Everyone wants to play as fast as possible,” he 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.”

As Staples noted, the Oilers don’t really need to rush Nurse. They’ve added Mark Fayne and Nikita Nikitin to the blue line, and they still have Andrew Ference, Justin Schultz and Jeff Petry.

Besides, if they’re realistic about their chances this season in the tough Western Conference, and if they don’t think he can be a difference-maker for them, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to delay the start of Nurse’s three-year entry-level contract for one more year.