While the odds may have been stacked against Darnell Nurse making the Edmonton Oilers’ opening night roster against the St. Louis Blues, it really was only a matter of time before the 2013 seventh overall pick would find his way onto this blueline in 2015-16. However, no one likely expected to see him back in the fold so quickly.
— HockeyNightInCanada (@hockeynight) October 27, 2015
It may not have been the move the organization wanted to make, but with Griffin Reinhart and Justin Schultz both being banged up, Peter Chiarelli’s hands were essentially tied. With all due respect to Brandon Davidson, the Oilers will now be going into games with two guys who can move the puck and something tells me Oscar Klefbom and Andrej Sekera are not capable of playing 40 minutes per night.
While Brad Hunt may lead the Condors in scoring with seven assists, five of those have come via the man advantage and all of us should remember how that experiment played out during his 11-game stint in 2014-15. By the sounds of it, Nurse has looked good, but let’s not forget that we are talking about as small a sample size as one could go on.
[Related Article: Lightening The Load On Oscar Klefbom]
With Hunt not really being part of the equation, it ultimately came down to a choice between Nurse and Nikita Nikitin. There is no question the former Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds standout possesses the tools this blue line so desperately needs. His ability to move the puck and willingness to engage physically is certainly a dimension this team sorely lacks, but at 20-years of age, expecting him to do either one at this level would be a stretch and a near impossibility with the group head coach Todd McLellan currently has at his disposal.
Nikitin Was Never Really An Option
Considering the lack of experience on the Oilers’ backend, one would think the most logical choice would have been for Nikitin to be recalled as a temporary fill in. While the previous management team was banking on him finding the form he had shown with the Columbus Blue Jackets back in 2011-12 when signing the veteran rearguard to a two-year deal last summer, clearly there is no one who still believes that is a possibility.
[Related Article: Griffin Reinhart Could Be In For A Rough Ride]
Add to that the fact the 29-year old dressed for the first time this season on Sunday and the chances of him even being a serious option was likely almost none. Making the decision to recall Nurse was a no-brainer. While there is a big difference between holding his own in the AHL compared to the NHL, if this coaching staff can find a way to insulate him in the short-term, perhaps this can be used as learning tool for the Hamilton native.
No Reason To Rush Nurse To The NHL
The chances of Nurse staying up for an extended period would appear to be unlikely, but should he make the most of the opportunity and leave a lasting impression on Mr. McLellan … maybe things change. However, considering the new general manager and head coach have both gone on at great lengths about preparing the likes of Nurse and Leon Draisaitl for the future, don’t count on it.
Also, let’s not forget that with Schultz out of the lineup, the Oilers are playing with one less right-handed defenceman and there is frankly no other position within the organization that has less depth. As of this moment, the club has exactly three healthy right-handed shooting defencemen between Edmonton and Bakersfield: Mark Fayne, Eric Gryba and Nick Pageau. A scary thought indeed but one that clearly hits home and sheds light on just how thin the Oilers’ blue line truly is.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.