The Edmonton Oilers have made their second round of cuts this preseason with two games and eight days remaining in training camp before the season opener against the St. Louis Blues on October 8th.
Among those names re-assigned to the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL was defenseman Darnell Nurse.
Nurse, 20, was thought to have a shot at a spot on the Oilers third-pairing to start the year but instead will likely dawn the role as the Condors top-pairing defenseman getting heavy minutes on the Oilers top development affiliate.
There has to be some deserved frustration on Nurse’s part because he had a stellar offseason taking his training to another level and adding to what is now a 6’4 205lb frame.
But as much as Nurse made strides off the ice and looked every bit the teams future defensive cornerstone the team has missed since Chris Pronger left in the summer of 2006.
It’s the crowded defense at the bottom end of the NHL depth chart that is more the reason for his re-assignment.
If you look at the Oilers blueline six of the seven/eight spots have already been decided essentially.
Andrej Sekera and Mark Fayne will likely make up the top pairing with the Oscar Klefbom and Justin Schultz pairing returning to round out the top four.
So that would’ve left Nurse a spot as the No. 5/6 defenseman playing on average of twelve-sixteen minutes per game in sheltered minutes because there simply isn’t enough ice-time to go around to warrant a strong development year.
Now some might say the same can be said for Griffin Reinhart but the two play two different styles.
Reinhart has a stronger defensive game whereas Nurse’s focus is on puck mobility and taking risks offensively.
From what it sounds like Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan had some concerns on Nurse needing time to learn to play defense at the pro level.
His offensive game will eventually translate but his holes on the backend needed addressing and starting the learning curve in the AHL is the best possible place for argubly the Oilers top prospect outside of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Ference & Nikitin Conundrum
It’s a crowded defense and the Nikitin and Ference conundrum isn’t making things easier.
Right now the contracts for the two defenseman that were once pegged to be No. 3/4 on the Oilers depth charts are currently bookending the No. 7/8 spots on the roster.
It’s a combined $7.7M plus that could be sitting in the press box to start the year and until the Oilers can either trade one of them possibly retaining salary in return or hope someone takes a chance on the waiver wire it’s going to block a few defenseman aside from just Nurse.
There really isn’t a bad thing anyone can say about Ference off the ice as he has been everything you could want with a captain bolstering the team’s presence in the community.
But at the end of the day it’s a tough pill to swallow being the captain of your team and having to watch from the press box.
Can Ference even crack the Oilers top six on defense? That’s a question we are realistically asking in 2015-16.
Brandon Davidson is another defenseman still at camp that could be an affordable No. 7 in Edmonton but could end up on waivers at some point if they can’t move one of those contracts.
Yes Dillon Simpson is still up with the big club but it’s expected he’ll end up in Bakersfield along with Nurse.
Simpson is not waiver eligible and can clear if the Oilers were to re-assign him.
So until either Ference or Nikitin or both are gone, there will be a few others who won’t get looks at the NHL not named Nurse.
In the end it’s an albatross that could be a blessing in disguise if Nurse gets valuable minutes in the minors this season.
Nurse Won’t Be Gone For Long
He’s a stud defenseman and the Oilers know what they have with him.
The 2013 7th overall pick has the highest upside for any defender in the Oilers system and even though Reinhart is currently holding a spot ahead of Nurse on the depth chart, Nurse projects to be a much larger piece to the Oilers future.
A future No. 1/2 defenseman is what the Oilers have in the pipeline in comparison to a future No. 3/4/5 (possibly, don’t get angry people).
Is it really worth it to try and throw him into the fire when Nurse could come up later in the year as a much better rounded prospect?
Defenseman generally don’t pan out til a little later in their careers and Nurse’s NHL career is essentially in the embryonic stages.
Edmonton has made far too many mistakes with rushing prospects and they need to learn from their mistakes and give a propsect like Nurse the due process to find his legs at the professional level.
Regardless Nurse is going to come up at some point this season for an extended look whether it’s for a ten-game stint or the second half of the season, he will be in Edmonton.
Until then take this as a blessing in disguise.