A recent article by SportsNet columnist Mark Spector pointed out something very interesting about young defenceman Darnell Nurse that is worth noting. When asked what type of defenceman Nurse believes he could become in his wildest dreams, he answered the question with undoubtedly one of the best answers anyone could ever give to a question of that nature.
“I don’t have dreams. I have goals.”
It’s an answer that wraps up what Nurse has become for the Edmonton Oilers in one sentence. The still-young blueliner has taken on loads more responsibility this season and in a year that has been anything but positive for the Oilers’ franchise, Nurse might be the one shining light. He’s become arguably the second-most important piece (Connor McDavid being the first) on the Oilers’ roster and his attitude and poise at a young age may be a large reason for his success.
Developing at Nurse’s Pace
Spector also correctly points out that Nurse is developing at a pace that works for Darnell Nurse. A seventh-overall draft pick in 2013, it’s taken Nurse a few seasons to really grow into his own. Perhaps fans of the Oilers had hoped he’d have impacted the game on a more significant level earlier in his career, but not all defenseman are Drew Doughty or Victor Hedman. Strong defenders often take time and Nurse needing a few seasons to get used to the speed of the NHL isn’t terribly abnormal.
That said, this season, he’s been eating minutes like PacMan and used in all situations. He’s averaging over 21 minutes per game, has six goals and 18 points and is seeing time on special teams in an effort to turn a horrid penalty kill and power play around. He leads the team in plus-minus and has produced more offensively than any other Oilers’ defender.
Some would suggest he’s been the Oilers best defenseman this season by a mile.
Related: Darnell Nurse Delivering on Promise
Future No. 1 Defender?
The question is, does Nurse’s results this season mean he’ll one day be a No. 1?
Coming into the 2017-18 season, few expected Nurse to be the difference-maker on the Oilers. Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson both played unbelievably well the previous season, but neither has been able to refind the magic that helped lead the team to their first playoff appearance in over a decade.
So too, Andrej Sekera hasn’t rebounded from his injury the way the Oilers might have hoped and as a result, a large load has been placed upon Nurse’s shoulders. He’s carried it well. Moved up to the first pairing on a regular basis, Nurse has been asked to lead the way in many ways. He’s jumping up in the rush but adding sound defensive play, and his decision-making has improved tremendously.
“In an ugly year for our hockey club he’s having a pretty solid individual year,” said head coach Todd McLellan. “His game hasn’t wavered much from night to night regardless of how the group is playing. He’s an evolving young defenceman in our organization, obviously something we need. If we can keep his confidence level up we feel we have a good one.”
Goals, Not Dreams
There’s nothing wrong with being a dreamer. But, Nurse has the right idea here when he says he has goals and not dreams. The Oilers won’t get back into contention by dreaming they can. This isn’t The Secret and the “Law of Attraction” won’t cut it here. Setting smaller goals that eventually become bigger goals signifies the team is willing to chip away at their deficit in the standings a little bit at a time.
Nurse has done the same with his career. He wanted to be seen as a trusted defenseman who could play a well-rounded game. He wanted to be known as a teammate who would stand up for his players. He wanted to be counted on to produce offensively. He wanted his coaches to know he could play relatively mistake-free hockey. At every turn and with each objective, Nurse has taken things one step at a time.
Setting goals are how Nurse has achieved and succeeded when others have faltered. And, he’s not done. He believes he’s only scratched the surface of what he’s able to offer the Oilers and there are plenty of goals left to achieve. Fans are hoping he’s right.
The Edmonton Oilers need to tear a page out of Nurse’s playbook. With 32 games left in the season, there’s still time, but not much. The Edmonton Oilers need to have goals and not dreams of making it to the playoffs this season. But to do so, means winning one game at a time, then a run of games, then a massive winning streak. Anything less than that means the Oilers season is toast.