There was a point during the draft on Sunday, that Edmonton Oilers General Manager Craig MacTavish considered selecting Russian forward Valeri Nichushkin with the seventh overall pick. That choice would have liked caused an uproar in Edmonton, who have a plethora of top-end forwards, and not enough quality NHL defensemen. The Oilers needed to acquire some size, in particular on the blueline, and that’s precisely what they did, drafting Sault Ste. Marie defenseman Darnell Nurse.
“He really gives us an element I feel we’re sorely lacking. He’s the guy who will ride shotgun for a lot of first overall picks and our skilled players for a lot of years. The overall package was very difficult to pass up on and, as a manager making his first pick, I was really excited to be able to call his name.” – Craig MacTavish (Edmonton Journal)
Nurse, who has a famous uncle in NFL Quarterback Donvan McNabb, is 6 foot 3, and listed at 185 pounds, though he still has time to add some weight to that big frame. He’s a great skater, he uses his size to his advantage and he handles the puck extremely well. Nurse isn’t as nasty as defenseman Nikita Zadorov, who was without a doubt the hardest hitting blueliner available, but he can still provide that edge the Oilers need. Edmonton could have gone with Zadorov, but they really like what Nurse brings to the table and see him as a mainstay for this franchise in the future.
Nurse will likely play one more season in the OHL to further his physical development, but he’s not far off from being an NHL player.
“I’m not going to put any limitations on myself and say I can’t do it next year, but that being said, I have a lot of work to do with my game to get to that point. I’m going to put in as much work as I can in the gym. This is something you work for, but you never know when the day will come. Being a Canadian kid, I grew up watching the Canadian teams. I’m just so excited. With a young team, you’re able to learn with the guys. When you’re in a position and growing as players, as people, it makes the group a lot tighter.” – Darnell Nurse (Edmonton Journal)
Nurse has a dynamic personality and the Oilers love the character and leadership that he’ll bring to the locker room. A partnership with Justin Schultz will provide a formidable duo on the Oilers back-end, and should inspire a lot of excitement among Oilers fans. Nurse doesn’t have as much of an offensive upside as Schultz, but his game is about strong two-way play, and he has the potential to develop into a Chris Pronger type player. (Though probably with less suspensions).
Edmonton didn’t make a big splash in the trade market like everyone expected them to, but they picked up some solid players yesterday in New Jersey. Free agency begins this Friday, and the Oilers off-season is only just beginning.
Marcy, a former hockey player, is a hockey correspondent on CTV News and TSN radio. She began her career as a Sports Journalist in 2009 and has been part of The Hockey Writers since 2010, where she is currently a senior writer and editor.