While we may just be seven games into Darnell Nurse’s rookie season with the Edmonton Oilers, the talented blueliner has already managed to become of a fan favourite during his brief time in the NHL. Be it his ability to move the puck up ice, a willingness to engage in the physical side of the game, the exuberance he brings to the rink on a nightly basis or a combination of all three, whatever it is…it is clearly working.
— Derek Van Diest (@SUNdvandiest) November 12, 2015
With every game he gets under his belt, Nurse appears to be growing in confidence and his head coach continues to feed him opportunity after opportunity. Despite being all of 20 years of age, the towering blueliner has been used in all situations by Todd McLellan and, at least for the time being, has cemented himself a spot beside veteran Andrej Sekera inside the Oilers top two pairings on the back-end.
[Related Article: Sekera Leaves Fans Wanting More]
Considering the Hamilton native played his first game of the year roughly two weeks ago, the fact he is already among Edmonton’s top three defencemen on a nightly basis says a lot about both the kid and this club’s blue line. With Justin Schultz out of action with a bad back, this team badly needed someone to step up and take on his minutes and to his credit, Nurse has seized that chance and forced his way into being used in a variety of key situations. Whereas others have fallen by the wayside and been passed on the depth chart.
Holding His Own Against Top Level Competition
While the Oilers are coming off a thrilling 4-3 overtime win against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday night, thanks in large part to a dominating third-period performance from the line of Leon Draisaitl, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, it was another evening in which Nurse made his presence felt. He not only picked up an assist on Draisaitl’s second-period power play marker but was a force in his own end of the rink from start to finish.
For a third consecutive outing, the No. 7 pick of the 2013 Entry Draft found himself going head-to-head in the defensive zone with some of the best players in the game today. First it was Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night over at Rexall Place. Next up was the Chicago Blackhawks duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and yesterday it was Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
[Related Article: Taylor Hall Continues to Quiet His Critics]
Some pretty impressive competition and yet Nurse more than held his own and actually made a point of not backing down from Getzlaf when the Ducks captain decided to take a whack at the youngster late in period number two. Sure he looked completely out of sorts on Chicago’s insurance marker in the dying seconds of Sunday’s 4-2 loss and will occasionally still get himself caught out of position, let’s forget we are talking about a guy who has played a grand total of 19 regular season games at the pro level.
There is no question that Darnell Nurse was disappointed with not making this team out of training camp, but everyone knew it was just a matter of when and not if he would be playing for the Edmonton Oilers during the 2015-16 season. Injuries opened the door for him to get his shot sooner rather than later and he has surely made an impression on both the organization and its fan base. Barring some sort of major setback, it looks as though the Oilers No. 25 has played his last game in the AHL.
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.