The Edmonton Oilers are off to a great start in the 2019-20 NHL campaign, banking very important points in the month of October. Their goaltending tandem of Mike Smith and Miiko Koskinen is standing on its head thus far, with Smith being in the top seven in the league in both save percentage and goals-against average. However, there is one big problem that is plaguing the Oilers this season, a lack of depth scoring.
The Oilers’ depth scoring, outside of the “big 4” forwards, being Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, James Neal, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, has fallen short this season. In fact, Jason Gregor stated on his radio show that an anonymous NHL player told him that the Oilers’ bottom-six forwards are the easiest in the league to play against. To paraphrase, when the Oilers’ top line comes off the ice, the opposing team can “take it easy.” To give you an idea of the Oilers’ depth scoring problem, they have 22 points from 12 players, and Zack Kassian has 10 of those points.
Now, here is my idea. The Oilers should consider trading defenseman Darnell Nurse for immediate help at the forward position. There are many reasons why I think this. Nurse is a great player, but I also believe that he is a touch overrated. Although he had 41 points last year in a full season, his passing is not at an elite level. His first passes on breakouts are often choppy, he sometimes over skates with the puck, and he often hesitates while moving the puck. He does not think the game at an NHL, first-pair defenseman level.
Nurse is serviceable in a shut down role, and that is hard to come by in the NHL, don’t get me wrong. He has started over 51% of his shifts in the defensive zone the last three seasons. He checks well and is good defensively. Having said that, he is also up for a new contract at the end of this season, and will be a restricted free agent. I am afraid that the Oilers will overpay Nurse. I believe a comparable for him is Jacob Trouba. Trouba just signed with the New York Rangers this past July for seven years at $8 million per season. Nurse’s agent will likely use that contract as a measuring stick for his deal, which would be an overpay by the Oilers.
The biggest reason to trade Nurse is that, for the first time in many years, the Oilers have a deep prospect pool on defence. With the likes of Caleb Jones, Philip Broberg, Dmitri Samorukov, and William Laggesson coming down the pipe in the next few years on the left side, the Oilers can afford to lose Nurse. The team also has Oscar Klefbom locked in at just over $4.1 million for the next four years, and he can anchor the left side on defence. Here are some trade candidates for the Oilers to look at.
Nikolaj Ehlers has 21 or more goals the last three seasons with the Winnipeg Jets. He is young, quick, and would fit in perfectly on the Oilers second line with Nugent-Hopkins and Neal. He is on a solid contract, as he is signed for six more years at $6 million per season. His Corsi over the last three years averages at around 52%, which is a solid number. His goals for percentage also averages around 52%, so these two stats shows that Ehlers is more of an offensive threat than a defensive liability.
Winnipeg is desperate for help on defence after losing Tyler Myers, Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, and Ben Chiarot. They are quite deep at forward, so this could be a rare case where two teams help each other out, and this could be a straight up one-for-one trade scenario.
The Florida Panthers’ Jonathan Huberdeau has really come out of his shell the last two seasons. He has shown incredible offensive prowess while playing in Florida’s top six. He had a breakout year last season with 92 points in 82 games, and this season he already has 9 goals and 18 points in 14 games. Although the price for Huberdeau would be higher than for Ehlers, likely having to add a first-round draft pick, I believe it would be worth it.
Huberdeau could slide right into the Oilers’ top six and fit in quite well. He has the speed and skill to keep up and complement the likes of McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins. His underlying numbers, including Corsi and goals for percentages, are acceptable (both above 51). He brings experience, but is still a young player at 26 years old. Nurse would fit perfectly on the Panthers’ top pair alongside Aaron Ekblad. The Panthers allow an average of 3.29 goals per game, 25th in the league. They could use some help defensively.
The fact of the matter is that the Oilers need help on offence. In the past nine games, the Oilers have been held to two or fewer goals seven times. They have only one regulation win in that span. The Oilers have had a great start, but they cannot take their foot off the gas. Although trading Nurse will not help the bottom-six forwards a ton, this would inject a forward into the top six and bump someone down the lineup. Lastly, outside of Draisaitl and McDavid, Nurse carries the most trade value on the team.